As usual, George Orwell says it better than anybody. Here he is in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, asking his readers not to give up using coal, but just to recognize whose labor is providing them with coal. Nowadays I would only add to the coal miner all the people behind all of our conveniences…
Source: George Orwell & Empathy
[The excerpt chosen illustrates Orwell’s concern that people be mindful of the people who make their lives possible. Bonus: a link to the complete text of “The Road to Wigan Pier,” and the following post has a harrowing excerpt on the coal mining process.]
Just in time for the start of the school year is a holiday to impress on everyone that summer is REALLY over. But what is Labor Day truly about? Here is a list of resources that examine the history of the observation.
- From Digital History, the day’s beginning in the violence that accompanied the establishment of workers’ rights (despite the fact that it is not celebrated on the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair)
- From the U.S. Department of Labor, a history of the legislation creating the holiday in the U.S.
- Several History.com videos on the subject — especially the role of strikes from Homestead to G.M — curated by Indiana University Northwest
To review the larger background of labor in America, use the Theme: The Labor Movement in WorldView Software’s American History II and Basic American History II (for middle school students). In the theme, you’ll find gathered in one place materials such as Case Study: Haymarket Affair, Internet Project: Impact of Mass Production, and Tutorial: Revolution of Industry.
And the history of labor isn’t over — it’s been undergoing a series of revolutions ever since the Industrial Revolution, and labor regulations and contracts still haven’t caught up to events like: the entrance of women into paid work and the two earner-family, the globalization of manufacturing, the increasing use of robotics, and the freelance/gig economy. You can review the information in WorldView Software’s U.S. Government Theme: Economic and Financial Regulation, U.S. Government with Economics Theme: Globalization, Economics Chapter 7: Business and Labor, and Civics Theme: Globalization (for middle school students). Take the opportunity to discuss recent developments with your students, and encourage them to develop policy ideas of their own based on clearly articulated principles such as fairness.
The featured image is of an unnamed miner in Silverton, Colorado, who won the Labor Day power drilling contest in September, 1940 (photo by Russell Lee, LC-USF33- 012908-M2).
Advanced students can get a lot out of Internet Projects on their own; curated links progressively lead to a hands-on project.
Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at http://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/
According to a report in the New York Times, after 114 years one of the nation’s worst industrial tragedies will finally get a memorial. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire will be commemorated in a monument at the site (29 Washington Place, in Manhattan), with funding supplied by the state of New York.
Governor Cuomo is quoted thusly:
“When I was young, I would hear about the Triangle fire,” he said in an interview. “But unfortunately it has faded from memory. It’s one of the formative experiences in how we developed our reform movement. It’s a powerful lesson that young people should study today.”
The reforms that were sparked by the disaster included fire safety laws, worker, and work space safety laws. More broadly, they pointed to needs for different views on labor, immigration, and feminism.
To learn more about the fire, which killed 146 people, read the Case Study: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in WorldView Software’s American History II and Basic American History II. (To learn more about what exactly a “shirtwaist” was, check out this blog post from the Library of Congress.)
Guided essays lead students step-by-step through the essay writing process, from selecting the main idea to writing the conclusion.
As you celebrate (or mourn!) the end of summer, keep in mind the forces that made the Labor Day holiday possible. The labor movement is a crucial factor in American history, and without it most people’s lives would have been substantially worse throughout the 20th century.
To get an idea of the scope of labor’s contribution to America, take a tour through our American History II Theme: The Labor Movement. In this theme, we’ve gathered together all the materials in American History II* that explain the evolution of protections and prerogatives for working people. See, for example, the case studies Haymarket Affair and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a portrait of Eugene Debs in action, or read an excerpt from John Spargo’s “The Bitter Cry of the Children.” By gathering these chronologically dispersed resources into a theme, students can get a better overview of the topic while still understanding its context in wider history.
And think about what a labor movement for the 21st century would look like. The nature of work, and all the institutions that surround it — from health insurance to 30 year mortgages — are changing yet again. According to this thoughtful piece by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, there are several distinct paths opening up:
I see three overlapping possibilities as formal employment opportunities decline. Some people displaced from the formal workforce will devote their freedom to simple leisure; some will seek to build productive communities outside the workplace; and others will fight, passionately and in many cases fruitlessly, to reclaim their productivity by piecing together jobs in an informal economy. These are futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency. In any combination, it is almost certain that the country would have to embrace a radical new role for government…The three potential futures of consumption, communal creativity, and contingency are not separate paths branching out from the present. They’re likely to intertwine and even influence one another.
What events would your students add to a 21st century timeline of the labor movement? What trends do they see, and how do they think their lives will be impacted? And what will they need to do to prepare?
*The theme and most of these materials are also available in a simplified form in Basic American History II.
When assigning overviews for your flipped classroom, use the “Questions for Thought” as a reflection activity.