The Labor and Black Votes


 “Where He Keeps the Labor Vote”
  Cartoonist:  William Allen Rogers
  Source:  Harper's Weekly
  Date:   July 11, 1908, p. 3

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Complete HarpWeek Explanation:
In this cartoon, William Jennings Bryan reaches into the pocket of union president Samuel Gompers for the labor vote. The Democratic nominee appears as a country bumpkin who uses the scarecrow leader of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to frighten workers into voting for him. The Democratic Donkey appears in the background.

The sign worn by Gompers refers to court-ordered injunctions, which were often used at the time to break labor strikes. For example, the 1908 Socialist Party presidential nominee, Eugene Debs, had been arrested for violating an injunction issued during the Pullman Strike of 1894. As a federal judge (1892-1900), Republican presidential nominee William Howard Taft’s approval of the use of injunctions in some cases against striking workers and secondary boycotts earned him an anti-labor reputation, which Bryan and Gompers exploited in 1908. Taft’s judicial record was actually more complex. He approved the rights to unionize and strike, and had also applied injunctions against business corporations in order to enforce antitrust laws. At Taft’s insistence, the Republican National Platform of 1908 endorsed limiting the circumstances under which injunctions could be issued by judges. However, the plank’s moderate language proved unsatisfactory to both labor and business leaders.

In addition, Gompers had been rudely treated by GOP convention managers (note his torn “Chicago” coat in the cartoon), and was told to take his demands to the Democratic convention. The AFL president did so, and the Democratic labor plank incorporated most of his requests. It criticized the unfair use of injunctions against striking workers, affirmed the right of labor to organize and not be charged with restraining trade, and favored an eight-hour day for federal employees, a general employer’s liability law, and a separate Department of Labor. Although Bryan and the Democratic leadership did not designate one issue as paramount in 1908, as they had imperialism in 1900 and free silver in 1896, Bryan’s first post-nomination speech emphasized the labor question. He promised to establish a Department of Labor and exempt labor unions from antitrust prosecution. In September, Gompers embarked on a campaign speaking tour for the Democratic nominee. Throughout the campaign, Bryan pummeled Taft on the issues of labor and campaign contributions, charging late in October that Republicans were coercing the labor vote.













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