Samuel Gompers and Sidney Hillman medal designed by Karen Worth, struck by Medalcraft Mint in quantities of 125 bronze and 50 pure silver. Obverse: Portraits, SAMUEL GOMPERS • Samuel Gompers (signature) • 1850-1924, SIDNEY HILLMAN • Sidney Hillman (signature) • 1887-1946, eagle emblem of the National Recovery Association. Reverse: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America union members on strike, WE SHALL FIGHT UNTIL WE WIN, etc. 49 x 47 mm.
Samuel Gompers (1850-1924) was born in London on January 27, 1850, after his parents had emigrated from Holland. He left school at the age of 11 to become an apprentice to a cigar maker, his father’s occupation. In 1863, his family moved to New York. Within a year, young Samuel had joined Local 15 of the United Cigar Makers Union, and he eventually rose to Second Vice President. Gompers was a founder of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L), and served as its president for every year but one during his lifetime. During World War I, Gompers was appointed by President Wilson to the advisory committee of the National Council of Defense. Following the war, he led the United States delegation to the International Labor Organization.
Sidney Hillman (1887-1946), a 20 year old former rabbinical student from Lithuania, was among the 100,000 Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America in 1907. Hillman became an apprentice cutter in a Chicago garment factory, working long hours under brutal conditions.
In 1910, Hillman helped settle a major strike, gaining union recognition and agreement to settle future disputes by arbitration.
During the Depression, Sidney Hillman was named to the Labor Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration, and helped draft the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 1937, Hillman was a founder and first Vice President of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). President Roosevelt declared that Hillman, more than any other man, helped to win passage of the national minimum wage law of 1938.
The medal’s reverse dramatically portrays the September 1915 strike by 25,000 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Union President, Sidney Hillman declared that: “All we want is to be recognized as human beings and not machines.” Sixty percent of the workers were young women, including Hillman’s future wife Bessie Abramowitz, who also became an important labor leader. They worked up to 20 hours in a day for as little as $1.25.