28th President. Typed letter signed (TLS) “Woodrow Wilson” AS PRESIDENT, July 8, 1918, to “Mr. Samuel Gompers, American Federation of Labor”, in full:
I can always tell you the exact comments of my mind, and so in reply to your letter of July sixth suggesting a message from me to be published in the American Federationist for Labor Day I can tell you that it really would embarrass me to do so, for this reason: I have been obliged to decline similar requests from other highly important publications and I am sure there would be a feeling of unfair discrimination.
It may be that I shall have some opportunity to express publicly on Labor Day the sentiments which I would embody in such a message, and I am afraid I must trust to that opportunity.
Two file holes at top as well as “Received” stamp.
Incredible association letter.
Samuel Gompers was an English-born American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and served as the organization’s president from 1886 to 1894, and from 1895 until his death in 1924. He promoted harmony among the different craft unions that comprised the AFL, trying to minimize jurisdictional battles. He promoted thorough organization and collective bargaining, to secure shorter hours and higher wages, the first essential steps, he believed, to emancipating labor. He also encouraged the AFL to take political action to “elect their friends” and “defeat their enemies”. He mostly supported Democrats, but sometimes Republicans. He strongly opposed Socialists. During World War I, Gompers and the AFL openly supported the war effort, attempting to avert strikes and boost morale while raising wage rates and expanding membership.
The high point of the AFL’s political strategy came during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson (1912–1920), when Gompers and the federation enacted much of their program and enjoyed their greatest influence. During World War I, Wilson appointed Gompers to the Council of National Defense, where he helped mobilize labor support for the war. Gompers also was crucial in convincing Wilson to craft a wartime labor policy that for the first time in U.S. history explicitly articulated government support for independent trade unions and collective bargaining. Labor union membership soared by the end of the war, reaching into the millions. At the war’s end, Wilson appointed Gompers to the Commission on International Labor Legislation at the Versailles Peace Conference, where Gompers helped create what would become the International Labor Organization (ILO). Although labor suffered considerable reverses in the 1920s, with the war crisis over and Wilson’s administration at an end, the labor policies forged in this period laid the basis for the New Deal endorsements of labor rights in the 1930s.