On Tuesday, Assembly Bill 172 passed the State Senate on a bipartisan vote of 20 to 12. This legislation will include labor history in the state’s model academic standards so that youth will learn about previous generations who relied on collective action to improve their lives. This will help balance the overwhelming business bias found in textbooks.
“This victory has been years in the making,” said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Phil Neuenfeldt. “Armed with the knowledge of what has gone before them, young people will be better prepared to make the continuing improvements necessary in today’s workplaces.”
In Wisconsin, labor led the historic battle to create the first workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance systems in the entire nation. Whether it is opposing unfair trade agreements, raising the minimum wage, or fighting for health care for all, union members continue to be at the forefront of the movement for social and economic justice.
It is well worth remembering that Wisconsin workers have given their lives to establish the working conditions that many of us take for granted. For example, in Milwaukee in 1886 several workers were killed by the state militia while marching to limit the workday to eight hours.
The history of workers and their unions is central to the history of the United States, and that history will soon be part of our statewide public school curriculum.
AB 172 and its passage are also an example of what can be accomplished when working people participate fully in our democratic process. The victory today would not have been possible if not for union members who kept this issue before the Legislature for many years and contacted their Senators before the vote.
The bill had previously passed the Assembly, and now must be signed by the Governor before it becomes law.
The American Labor Studies Center has already developed a wealth of materials to help bring labor history to life in our schools, which can be viewed at www.labor-studies.org. This website includes “Lessons in Labor History,” which was developed in part by the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers (now AFT-Wisconsin) and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) to promote teaching of labor history in Wisconsin by linking labor history to required teaching standards.
(Photo: Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Phil Neuenfeldt, speaking at the 2009 Wisconsin AFL-CIO State Legislative Convention.)