This activity embodies a couple of key insights of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. One is that history is not inevitable. People’s choices matter. Through role play, students in this lesson explore some of the actual dilemmas faced by strikers in Lawrence, Mass., in 1912. Here, the teaching methodology is designed to match the history itself, as students portray Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) organizers deciding how—and for what—to conduct a massive strike. The other is that social class matters. Too often, traditional textbooks and curricula neglect the way social class has shaped our country’s history and how people’s understanding of class has influenced their actions.
Social class is at the heart of this lesson, as it is at the heart of so much of Howard Zinn’s work. This activity—co-authored with Norm Diamond and included originally in the book The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States—highlights how unions can have different goals and structures than the ones that predominate today. In “Lawrence, 1912,” students contrast the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World. Students act as, and empathize with, union organizers. The role play illustrates, well, the power in our hands—one of the first major victories for U.S. labor, and an inspirational instance of worker solidarity. This lesson broadens students’ sense of what workers can and do fight for beyond wages and benefits.
The Power In Our Hands—Available for Download
This is one of the 16 lessons available from The Power In Our Hands. Other lessons available for individual download are:
Unit I: Basic Understandings
Unit II: Changes in the Workplace/”Scientific Management”
- Paper Airplane Simulation
- Free to Think, Talk, Listen, or Sing
- Modern Times
- “Taylorizing” Burgers: A Fantasy
Unit III: Defeats, Victories, Challenges
Unit IV: Our Own Recent Past
- It’s a Mystery—White Workers Against Black Workers
- Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union: Black and White Unite?
- 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike
- Union Maids
Unit V: Continuing Struggle
Order the book online from Rethinking Schools.