This lesson introduces students to the origins of the minimum wage and the 40-hour work week. Using reader-friendly articles and small group activities, the lesson emphasizes the actions taken by workers and activists to make sure a minimum wage was established in law and enforced.
The readings and activities are appropriate for grades 6 to 12 and can be used in social studies or language arts classrooms.
- Students will understand their connection to the history of organized labor
- Students will identify major strategies and tactics of labor organizers
- Students will consider ways to apply these or other tactics to improve working conditions today
- Students will identify some major figures in the history of the labor movement, and recognize the role of average, less-celebrated workers in the success of that movement.
To understand the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, one must understand the basics of the labor movement and union organization. That’s not easy, in a world in which union organization has hit a low point. Fewer than ten percent of American workers today are unionized, compared to 35 percent in the mid-20th century. Yet we all benefit from rules such as the 40-hour workweek, the minimum wage, and workplace safety regulations.
This lesson draws on students’ prior knowledge to help them understand the importance of the labor movement.
Complete Labor Matters lesson, produced by Teaching Tolerance.
Teaching Tolerance offers other lessons on labor and organizing, such as:
- Looking at Labor: students examine the pay scale for jobs vs. the value of those jobs to society.
- Farmworkers and the Union: A Lesson from Viva La Causa: lesson on strategies used by unions, for use with the 39-minute film Viva La Causa about the grape strike and boycott led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s. (This film can be requested for free, one per school, from Teaching Tolerance.)