Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor
Protesters rally against a bill that would cut public workers' collective bargaining rights.
February 25th, 2011
01:39 PM ET

Wisconsin law requires teaching of history of organized labor

Public school teachers have been among the loudest voices protesting inside and outside the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison over Gov. Scott Walker's proposals for dealing with the state’s budget problems - specifically his legislation to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights.

Here’s a piece of irony: Wisconsin law requires that public school students be taught the history of organized labor. The kids certainly are getting a real-time lesson in the subject.

Some teachers who left their classrooms and hit the bricks in defense of their ability to organize and negotiate contracts likely are those who teach the history of the labor movement to students in those same classrooms.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 172, passed by Democrat-controlled state legislature, was signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, in December 2009.

The law requires teachers to include instruction in “the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process.”

The state’s Department of Public Instruction website reads: “Wisconsin has long been a leader in labor rights. The Progressive Movement, which had its beginnings in our state, led to laws limiting child labor and safety in the workplace. Unions such as the AFL-CIO and Teamsters allow us to enjoy an eight-hour work week and vacation time. In fact, it has been argued by some historians that the history of the United States itself could be a history of labor.”  The DPI site notes that the law made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to include the history of organized labor as part of state standards for teaching social studies.

Teachers are referred to websites for the Educational Communications Board Surf Report on Labor History, Wisconsin Historical Society Labor Collections and Wisconsin Labor History Society.

The Wisconsin Labor History Society offers teachers outlines to help them present the subject. “Workers and unions helped to make our nation great and to create our standard of living, with top wages and benefits for all workers. There were many struggles facing workers in reaching these goals. This presentation will discuss some of those struggles and identify the major gains of early workers and their unions. ...

Today, the United States is the richest country on earth. By most standards, U.S. earnings permit the vast majority of us to enjoy the highest standards of living. Most families have cars, sometimes two or three, televisions, refrigerators and their children have access to boom boxes, CDs, computers and cell phones.”

Back in April 2009, when then-historical society President Kenneth Germanson testified before the state legislature in support of the bill, he recounted the contributions by organized labor to American society. “But who is aware of this today?” Germanson asked. “Very few persons, and it’s a result of an education system that has overlooked a key part of American history. It’s precisely this omission that AB 172 seeks to overcome.”

Some politically conservative blogs are now calling to repeal AB 172.

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Filed under: Education • History • Labor • Politics • Protest • Wisconsin
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. scott

    I guess the histroy books in WI will have to change to relfect the decline and fall of the public employees union...
    Or the state will eventually go bankrupt from them...

    Which one is right for the people of Wisconsin?

    February 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • CA Res

      Our nation is being bankrupted by the rich and corporations who do not pay their taxes and their paid-politicians (both Dem and Rep) who do their bidding. The idea that public school teachers and state workers are to blame for the budget crises is ridiculous and if you believe that you are an idiot.

      February 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • No Fair Trade in Free Trade

      Not only is CA Res correct, but he understates the problem!! In 2009 alone, Exxon and GE, in spite of making billions in profit, paid ZERO FEDERAL INCOME TAX!!!! Nothing!!! Thats a fact!! They paid not one single dollar... how much income tax did YOU pay this year??? The Koch brothers, and many like them, are taking their profits overseas to avoid paying any tax whatsoever, so they drain the tax base to nothing and... this is a good one.... the millionaire pal politicians make workers the enemy to keep the focus off of them!!! As long as we keep fighting each other, they keep all their money and kill America in the process!!!

      February 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim s

      why did Wi give tax breaks to corporations then ask public service employees to give up pay and benefits to pay for them
      will the rich ever be rich enough

      February 26, 2011 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Mountaineer

      You would be working for pennies on the Dollar if it weren't for the sacrifices of the Labor Unions!

      February 26, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • WisBev

      100,000 people are protesting in Madison, WI today and thousands are simultaneously protesting in solidarity at every state capitol in the United States. Last week I was there and 70,000 were protesting against the union-busting bill while about 1000 tea party people did a counter protest. Guess who got the coverage? CNN, this is NEWS, not an actor's ranting while on drug withdrawal. News used to be about uncovering hidden agendas and lies that government wanted you to believe among other serious issues. You might as well bill yourself as an entertainment magazine and forget trying to convince us this is a news source.

      February 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • rice

      its not the unions bankrupting it the government spending outside their means dont let your jealousy rear its ugly head.

      March 6, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. The banasy foundation LLC.

    A bullys STOP – being mean to banasy ! If you would like to help us in our crusade againt Bullys ;visit our new web site at http//:www.stop the hate on banasy.com

    February 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ken Germanson

    The law (AB 172) actually does not mandate the teaching of these subjects directly, but does make the teaching of “the history of organized labor and the collective bargaining process” part of the State Standards. This means students can be expected to be examined on such topics, as they do on all sorts of topics. There is no specific curriculum that is proscribed. Our goal was simply to "correct the imbalance" in which the contributions of workers and their unions have been largely ignored in typical classrooms and textbooks.

    We hope the teaching of these topics helps to encourage debate and discussion in the classrooms to make our students more and more aware of the democratic nature of our society which has helped to make Wisconsin and the entire nation great. And, the current protests have been a good demonstration of just how ordinary citizens can peacefully and effectively express themselves.

    February 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Is theus army obsolete?

    education leads to true evolution beyond sound bite revolts. So then with the reduction of teachers at every level america is safe from evolution. Bevis and butthead for president? Why not. Everyone will be so jealous of those freedoms.

    February 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Zeta

    I just find it ironic that now some of the so-called conservative blogs want to repeal AB172. Of course they do; it makes them look like total idiots, considering what they're trying to do right now!

    February 25, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Zeta

    No Fair Trade makes an excellent point. If the citizens that hold the most wealth would pay their GD share, the US would be in much better shape! How much is enough for these people? Poor baby, can't survive on only 197 million a year? And what about these corporations? Why are they getting such huge tax breaks? Oh, I know. Because half of our politicos sit on their boards, that's why. And those boards contribute to their campaigns. Heavily. The wealthy get wealthier, slip through all the special loopholes created especially for them, and Joe the Plumber gets hosed, again. Bleh!!!

    February 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jenny

    You've should go in my country where I've been grew up in communism and Union control then you'll understand what this is mean.

    February 25, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim s

      is that where Lech Walensa and the union Solidarity was born that freed the polish people from communism

      February 26, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  8. Zeta

    I would not know of any other labor laws in other countries; I only know what it means in the US. Sorry.

    February 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Naksuthin

    Most poor third world countries like Thailand could use a much stronger Union system like in the US.
    Because of persisting government opposition to unions, organized labor was not a major factor in Thai life prior to the 1970s. Labor legislation in 1969 delineated certain basic workers' rights, and unions were granted greater freedom to organize under the Labor Relations Act of 1975. As of 2002, only 2% of the labor force (11% of industrial workers) was unionized.
    Minimum daily wage rates in 2002 ranged from $3.01 to $3.71 depending on the cost of living in different provinces.
    A simple lunch...a bowl of noodles...costs $1 dollar. So a worker in Thailand can work an 8-10 hour shift and have just enough to buy 3 bowls of noodles. As long as he lives under a bridge and has absolutely no other expenses, the average minimum wage worker in Thailand can earn enough to eat 3 meals a day.

    The labor unions in the United States have lifted American workers to a level that most third world workers can only dream of.

    I support labor unions. Countries like Thailand need more better paid workers. Right now most Thai factory or labor workers a little more than indentured servants. They will never be able to send their children to college, or take a vacation or buy a car.

    But I guess that's why Thailand has so many factories producing goods destined for America. Everyone in the US wants cheap products and they don't care if they were produced by 8 year old Thai children working 12 hours a day and getting paid 2 dollars a day.

    February 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      Sounds like they need to pull an Egypt. Freedom train's in town. All ABOARD!

      February 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottish mama

      If the Gov. and Koch Bros. get their way it will set the american worker back at least 100 years into the industrial age. Then other republican states will follow. The people in the states that voted Tea Party or Republican in revolt will be in jeopardy.

      February 26, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. HoffaSucks

    They should teach people common sense in school. Logic and ethics should be taught to every student. The state has every right to budget correctly in order to avoid deficit, however only targeting one segment reeks of politics. Someone should ask those in power why they don't take pay cuts. Politicians often rant about ceo wages, but do little to cut back their own pay. Private unions have been shrinking in this country to about 9% of private sector jobs, yet corporate america still claims the lack of good jobs are from unions taking over and bankrupting companies. How can 9% of the labor force ruin the economy? They can't. It's a lie used to eliminate unions all together. If congress enacted laws guaranteeing cost of living increases, benefit packages, and inflation offsets then I would be in favor of altering unions in America. Some rich people HATE paying employees enough to survive for no other reason than to pad their wealth. Balance is needed not division. Everyone can win, but the fringe have hijacked the debate.

    February 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Davis

      @Hoffa. The Repubs won the support of the majority, fair and square. Looks like the dems are now the new fringe. How does that feel ?

      February 25, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim s

      Amen Brother Union leaders wish they had the power to do anything but withhold services for fair pay

      February 26, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cesar


    February 25, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. leeintulsa

    8-hour work week? AND vacations? Where can i get some of that??;-)

    February 25, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. HoffaSucks

    I'm an independent. How does that feel? I voted for a repub gov, dem senator and split the other ones based on experience or record. How does that feel? I'm always in the fringe because of partisan fools like yourself whom get brainwashed by tv and radio, so you can't think for yourself. You don't even know me yet you think you've got me figured out. Typical behavior from a straight ticked voter like yourself. How does that feel? You gonna go cry to Rush now? Lol buh bye.

    February 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Little Ceaser

    I think todays unions are very corrupt these days . But i think workers need to be paid fairly too . boy this whole country seems to be going down the drain fast . The world seems to be spiraling out of control and the middle east is burning with flames of revolution , the planet is in turmoil and mankind seems to be in a sad state of affairs...... So sad. i wish we could all be peaceful with eachother ....but that seems impossible at this point..

    February 26, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. Cesar

    The disparity between CEOs and union workers is in the millions. CEOs should loose 90% of their pay. They would still have money to burn: 10% of 9,000,000 = $900,000 annual salary + $ benefits = over $1,000,000.

    February 26, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
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