Make September Labor Month: Teach the Power and History of Unionism!

Make September Labor Month: Teach the Power and History of Unionism!

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; to use the parlance of our times: essential workers. 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, not the oligarchs.

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, but sadly did not come to a vote on the House Floor.

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 teach all students the role the labor movement has played in shaping New Mexico and the United States, and the importance of collective bargaining to our students’ futures. It would also proclaim that New Mexico labor history, from the Spanish colonial period to the present day, be considered in the adoption of instructional materials to be used within our history/social science curriculum framework.

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 American Federation of Teachers has already produced curricula for the state of California which can be accessed for free (https://www.cft.org/curricula). The Albuquerque Teachers Federation is ready to help teachers across our district share their standards-based labor lessons. Send lessons you’d like to share to act@atfunion.org.

 

Lesson Plans, Resources and Activities:

Timeline of American Labor History: https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/organizations/labor/labor-history-timeline-1607-1999/

AFL-CIO Timeline: https://aflcio.org/about-us/history

AFSCME & Dr. Martin Luther King: https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk

Mother Jones Chicago Statue Campaign: https://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/statue

Full “Stay Home Session” of MOTHER JONES IN HEAVEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaeO3EX9ajA

THE SOCIAL DRAMA AND THE CHILD LABOR CONTROVERSY: https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/lesson-plan-social-drama-movie-and-child-labor-controversy-318628

WHEN THE RULES AREN’T RIGHT: 7 TIME TRAVEL TALES OF ACTIVISM https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/when-rules-arent-right-7-time-travel-tales-activism-leslie-tolf-279986

Dolores Huerta: A Civil Rights Icon: https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/dolores-huerta-civil-rights-icon-305959

Rights of Workers https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/rights-of-workers-lesson

Human Rights and Sweatshops https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/teaching-human-rights-sweatshops-288101

The Yummy Strawberry Company https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/workplace-issues-yummy-strawberry-company-267259

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THIS MAN https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/let-me-tell-you-about-man-cesar-chavez-union-organizer-267257

A printable biography of Cesar Chavez. Spanish/English

Collective Bargaining: Out of Conflict… Accord https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/collective-bargaining-education-project-267264

Work, Labor, & Power https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/work-money-power-unions-21st-century-267265

Labor Day Lesson Plan: Unions Today https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/labor-day-lesson-plan-unions-today-253621

Peaceful Protest in Child Labor https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/peaceful-protest-child-labor-history-253073

Organized Labor and the American Dream https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/organized-labor-and-american-dream-299531

Elementary Resources https://www.cft.org/elementary-curricula

Secondary Resources https://www.cft.org/high-school-curricula

Strike! Teaching Labor History in a Right to Work State https://rethinkingschools.org/articles/strike/

SALT OF THE EARTH (full movie)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE1oKQCwwo4

Oral History of Labor in New Mexico https://econtent.unm.edu/digital/collection/WPHNM/search

 

ATF’s Proposed MEMORIAL TO ESTABLISH SEPTEMBER AS LABOR HISTORY MONTH IN NEW MEXICO

 SECTION 1.

The month of September is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the New Mexico public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping New Mexico and the United States and the importance of collective bargaining and due process rights in bettering their future careers.

SECTION. 2.

It is the intent of the Legislature that New Mexico labor history, from the Spanish colonial period to the present day, be considered in the next cycle in which the history/social science curriculum framework and its accompanying instructional materials are adopted.

 

Other SOURCES for this article:

Labor in New Mexico: Strikes, Unions, and Social History, 1881-1981. Robert W. Kern.

History of Slavery in New Mexico https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_New_Mexico

History of New Mexico https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_New_Mexico#Spanish_exploration_and_colonization