Teachable Moment: Wisconsin Workers Unite March 3, 2011

Tens of thousands protest at the Wisconsin state capital in Madison, Wisconsin on February 17, 2011 as the legislature debates Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to destroy public sector unions. Photo (c) Barbara J. Miner, used with permission. Click on photo for more (must be logged into Facebook). 

According to labor historian Mark Naison, the movement of workers that began in Wisconsin and is now spreading to other states is “the most important labor struggle in the United States in the 21st century.” Naison explains, “With the state legislature in Wisconsion occupied and surrounded by thousands of state workers and their supporters, and with schools closed throughout the state because of teachers calling in sick, I cannot help but think of the greatest strike and building occupation in the history of the American labor movement — the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936-37.”

These events present a powerful opportunity to teach about labor history and the current economic and political situation. Rethinking Schools (co-coordinator of the Zinn Education Project) is located in Milwaukee and has been at the center of the protests in Wisconsin. The editors of Rethinking Schools have prepared a web page with suggested resources, articles (for children and adults), and an invitation to share ideas for teaching about the protests in Wisconsin and beyond.

The Zinn Education Project offers dozens of lessons, books, films, posters, and websites under the themes of labor and organizing. Use the lower section of the right-hand side bar to narrow the list to the reading/grade level of your students. As you teach about labor in light of the current protests, please share your experiences, comments, and questions on the Rethinking Schools website.

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