It would be impossible to list accomplishments more important in the everyday lives of working people than the 8-hour day, weekends, overtime pay, parental leave, Social Security, employer-paid health care, safety regulations, and democracy in the workplace (just to name a few). These are benefits brought to us by the courage and tenacity of our union forebears who faced violence and financial retribution to organize in unions. Workers’ rights are civil rights.
Sadly, under the federal education policies known as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, history and civics took a backseat to test-driven instruction. The enormous contributions of the labor movement in bettering the lives of working people in New Mexico and the United States became a footnote in most history texts written in this century. In a state that was both the real and fictional setting of the Empire Zinc strike commemorated in the film Salt of the Earth, it is imperative that students understand the positive impact on their everyday lives that union membership and working under a negotiated agreement can have. Our future workforce must know that they have the right to due process in the workplace, collective bargaining, and the benefits of a contract. The way they will achieve these goals is through union membership.
It is our duty as educators to teach the real history of the United States. We know that the vast majority of Americans are the workers who keep our country running. Yet, American history texts, for the most part, teach a top-down narrative of our past. We must make the commitment to teach the history and current reality of the people.
In the 2020 NM Legislative Session, the ATF Executive Council and Fed Rep Council sponsored a motion supporting the creation of a Memorial to declare September as Labor History Month across our state. This memorial was carried by our union sister, Representative Christine Trujillo, and she brought it back for the 2023 Legislative Session. She kept pushing, and House Memorial 4 passed and was signed by the Governor! You can read it here.
The memorial was conceived in the belief that schools and school districts across the state should be encouraged to commemorate the month of September (which hosts United States’ Labor Day) with appropriate educational exercises to teach all students the role the labor movement has played in shaping New Mexico and the United States. We must ensure students know the importance of collective bargaining to their futures.
We know that education is key to improving the lives of our students. The importance of understanding their rights in the workplace cannot be overstated nor can their need to understand how those rights were won.
The Albuquerque Teachers Federation has put together a collection of labor materials and resources for you on the “Your Classroom” page of atfunion.org. We hope you use them to teach your students about the labor movement.
We are deeply indebted to the California Federation of Teachers, the UC Berkely Labor Center, AFT’s sharemylesson.com, the Zinn Project, and others for the materials we are sharing.