During this period there were many unions floating around with no central body to direct them all towards common goals. Over the years there were many attempts at doing this and all failed one way or another. In 1881 this was again attempted in a meeting in Pittsburgh of various labor leaders to discuss organization. Gompers attended this meeting as a delegate of the cigar makersí and was assigned to the committee on organization. Ultimately this meeting led to the creation of the Federation of Trades and Labor Unions (FTLU). Gompers was elected President of the FTLU in 1883 but recognizing the poor organization of the FTLU did not even attend the next annual meeting. In 1886 with the FTLU completely dilapidated and being generally viewed as a failure another meeting was called to discuss the next step.
This next step came in 1886 in Columbus, Ohio where a meeting was called between 25 independent unions. At this time the total membership of all unions combined amounted to 150,000. The express purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to bolster numbers. Gompers was there as a delegate. What ultimately resulted from this meeting was the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Gompers was elected President. The AFL has been extremely important to the labor movement and if a single person should be thanked for that it should be Samuel Gompers, as he worked tirelessly to transform the organization from an idea on paper to a reality. The AFL was Gompers life and he served as President from 1886 till his death in 1924 except for one year.
It was Gompers practical guidance that kept the AFL productive. Keeping with his principles of striving for goals with tangible and realistic ends the AFL supported numerous basic priorities; including the eight hour work day and an end to child labor. The AFL was designed to certain autonomy to each respective Union so as to keep peaceful relations. Primarily the National Council of the AFL serves to lobby for or against legislation affecting the labor community as well as promoting the creation of new unions and recognizing them as members of AFL when they became large enough.
Gompers stuck to his principles, which meant the AFL stuck to his principles. This paid off over time. Membership rose to 300,000 in 1899, small but a start. Two decades later it peaked at 3,050,000. It was during the first two decade of the 20th century that the AFL enjoyed itís most productive years. Gompers and the AFL cooperated with the government during WWI, agreeing not to strike or hinder the war movement. In return President Wilson appointed Gompers to the Council of Defense. In that position Gompers worked with the labor movements in support of the war. After the war was over Wilson appointed Gompers to the Commision on International Labor Legislation at the Versailles Peace Conference. There he fought hard against European plans to create a supergovernment to legislate labor laws. In the end Mr. Gompers forced the committee to comprise and the International Labor Organization was created.
A life time of achievement was left behind when Samuel Gompers died in December of 1924 after falling ill in Mexico City attending the inauguration ceremony of the new Mexican President. He had served as President of his local Union for over 10 years, President of the AFL for 37 years, was part of the peace process at the end of WWI, was nominated for Senator of New York and holds to many accomplishments and honors to list. Without his tireless drive, towards organizing labor along the simple idea of working towards simple goals one at a time, the labor movement of America and perhaps the world would be radically different.