January 21, 2010
Kudos to Wisconsin for requiring the state’s schools to teach labor history and collective bargaining. On Dec. 10, Gov. Jim Doyle (D) signed the “Labor History in the Schools” bill – the first of its kind in the nation.
In signing this landmark legislation, Governor Doyle said he was thinking about the kids today and how vital it is to learn about the labor movement’s gains, such as fair wages, good benefits, decent working conditions and justice.
No doubt, this is a historic measure. And it’s even more notable because Wisconsin is the birthplace of AFSCME. Our ranks grew from 5,355 members in 1936 to more than 200,000 in the 1950s. During this period, AFSCME waged a successful campaign for collective bargaining rights. As a result, Wisconsin passed one of the nation’s first collective bargaining laws for public employees in 1959.
“Wisconsin continues the tradition of honoring the tremendous contributions and sacrifices of workers who built this great nation,” says Pres. Gerald McEntee. “We must never forget that workers organized, marched, went on strike, and even gave their lives in the struggles that resulted in the 40-hour work week, safe working conditions and secure retirement benefits.”
Absolutely thrilled. That’s how Janet Ramsey felt when she heard the news. A medical laboratory technician and member of Local 1942 (Council 24), she regularly volunteers at the local high school in Madison, talking to kids about unions. And it saddens her that there’s only one paragraph in the students’ history books about labor.
University of Massachusetts history professor James Green agrees with Ramsey. “Ignorance of labor history will disempower today’s workers and students,” he says. But armed with this knowledge, individual workers can achieve some dignity when they assert their collective power.
We agree, totally.