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Labor History

Wisc. Stat. sec. 115.28(55)

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In December 2009, Assembly Bill 172 was signed into law, making Wisconsin the first state to require the incorporation of the "history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process" into the state standards for social studies.  

Workgroup

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A statewide workgroup met in December 2010 to research and discuss this change.  The group analyzed Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Social Studies to find where the requirement best fit.  Note the section on standards below, as well as the section marked "Reflections of the Workgroup".

The requirements of Wisc. Stat. sec. 115.28(55) will be incorporated into the social studies standards during the next standards revision cycle. 

Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Social Studies

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The workgroup analyzed the current standards and determined there were areas where labor history was already being expected.  

Benchmark standards that help to meet the requirement are:

Standard B: History

Historical Eras and Themes: Wisconsin History.  The study of La Follette and the Progressive Era 1874-1914

Standard D: Economics

D.8.10:  Identify the economic roles of institutions such as corporations and businesses, banks, labor unions, and the Federal Reserve System.  
D.12.14:  Analyze the economic roles of institutions, such as corporations and businesses, banks, labor unions, and the Federal Reserve System. 

Note that Wisconsin standards are performance based, and there are many places where local and district choice of content such as labor unions could match up to performance standards in social studies.  

Reflections of the Workgroup

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The workgroup focused on two broad questions under the topic of incorporating labor history into the standards.  

What do you want students to know about the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process?

  • Work-related definitions;
  • Ways unions and collective bargining have affected society in the United States;
  • The role of labor today; and
  • Wisconsin historical events related to labor.

What do you want students to gain from learning the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process?

  • Viewing history and the system with a critical eye;
  • Use terms and concepts appropriately;
  • Emphasize critical thinking skills and historical perspective;
  • Explain and critique the actions of labor unions in the United States;
  • Understand how U.S. employers have interacted with unions and collective bargaining;
  • Ask meaningful questions about organized labor and collective bargaining; and
  • Be able to discuss cogently and cite historical examples to explain the causes, origins, and context of unionization and collective bargaining in the U.S.

Labor History Resources

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Resources that may help you determine how labor history fits into your local curriculum:

Wisconsin Historical Society Labor Collections

Wisconsin Labor History Society

Hardball and Handshakes:  Labor Relations in Baseball History from the Baseball Hall of Fame and the American Labor Studies Center

The Shanker Institute has released a report entitled, "American Labor in U.S. History Textbooks."

Labor Archives of Washington

The Occupational Folklife Project through the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress

Wisconsin Act 10 (2011)

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Wisconsin Act 10 was implemented in 2011 as "an act relating to: state finances, collective bargaining for public employees, compensation and fringe benefits of public employees, the state civil service system, the Medical Assistance program”.  

This is an important event in the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process in Wisconsin.