Baseball strikes, postponed openings of school, no job until age sixteen all these are the results of the work of organized labor. The price and availability of goods we buy and services we use are often determined by organized labor. Many of our students seeking employment in the local supermarket or department store find that they must join the union. Many more will become union members later in their lives.
Organized labor has a tremendous impact on our lives. Yet it seems that students have little understanding of the function of labor groups. It is with the hope of creating more educated and aware consumers and workers that I feel that it is important to undertake the teaching of this unit.
Students will also be able to relate this material to information on organized labor in the 20th century. It is my intention in this unit to show students that labor organizations developed to protect the rights of individual workers to promote the interests of workers as a group. The unit will begin with a brief discussion of the growth of industry in 19th century Connecticut and the subsequent development of a labor force. There will be a description of working conditions and the factors which caused the laborers to organize. I will then give a short explanation of the early unions and their functions. The labor legislation of 19th century Connecticut will be examined, both as a result of the efforts of labor organizations, and for its impact on labor. Where possible, the material will be related to events on the national level.
The second part of the unit will focus on the Norwalk hatters, especially during the last quarter of the century. The hatters’ strike will provide the basis for a discussion of the goals of both labor and management, the tactics and the accomplishments of each. The unit concludes with an analysis of the accomplishments and failures of organized labor to date. I hope that teachers will use this material to draw comparisons and contrasts between organized labor in the 19th century and organized labor today.
This unit is designed for a three week period to be used with senior high school students. It is my hope that the study of this topic will be exciting for students and teachers and will stimulate an interest in current labor affairs. I also hope to use the study of local events to enliven history for my students and to create an interest in and concern for their communities.