Lawrence, 1912: The Singing Strike

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow and Norm Diamond. 18 pages.
Role play on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Mass.

  • Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919, 20th Century | Themes: Art & Music, Labor, Organizing, Women's History | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs

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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.

The Power In Our HandsAvailable for Download

This is one of the 16 lessons available from The Power In Our Hands. Other lessons available for individual download are:

Opening
Unit I: Basic Understandings
Unit II: Changes in the Workplace/”Scientific Management”
Unit III: Defeats, Victories, Challenges
Unit IV: Our Own Recent Past
Unit V: Continuing Struggle

 

Order the book online from Rethinking Schools.

 

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There is one comment:

  • I taught this unit to my junior U.S. history class just as the Occupy Oakland movement was organizing large protests, including a general strike. My students were very engaged in the simulation component, arguing over the various problems the strikers were dealing with while comparing the strikers’ process with that of the Occupy Movement. They couldn’t imagine how groups of hundreds upon hundreds of striking workers could reach agreement when they were unable to in a group of 25 or so. The role of the unions in demanding and fighting for change, and the ferocity of those battles were very foreign to them. A few had relatives in unions today, but only a few.

    Response shared by Annie Johnston, Community Partnerships Academy, Berkeley High School — February 27, 2012 @ 3:50 pm

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