Teaching Activity PDF. By Bill Bigelow and Norm Diamond. 18 pages. Role play on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Mass.
This activity embodies a couple of key insights of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. One is that history is not inevitable. People’s choices matter. Through role play, students in this lesson explore some of the actual dilemmas faced by strikers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912. Here, the teaching methodology is designed to match the history itself, as students portray Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) organizers deciding how—and for what—to conduct a massive strike. The other is that social class matters. Too often, traditional textbooks and curricula neglect the way social class has shaped our country’s history and how people’s understanding of class has influenced their actions.
Social class is at the heart of this lesson, as it is at the heart of so much of Howard Zinn’s work. This activity—co-authored with Norm Diamond and included originally in the book The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States—highlights how unions can have different goals and structures than the ones that predominate today. In “Lawrence, 1912,” students contrast the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World. Students act as, and empathize with, union organizers. The role play illustrates, well, the power in our hands—one of the first major victories for U.S. labor, and an inspirational instance of worker solidarity. This lesson broadens students’ sense of what workers can and do fight for beyond wages and benefits.
Also see, The Singing Strike and The Rebel Students.
This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States. For more lessons like “Lawrence, 1912: The Singing Strike,” order The Power in Our Hands with many more roles plays on the history of work and organized labor in the United States, by Bill Bigelow and Norm Diamond. See Table of Contents.