Empowering Students to Learn the Lessons of Labor History

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When the bill cleared passed with a 24 to 9 vote in the legislature’s upper chamber, state Sen. President Martin Looney expressed the value of exposing students to labor history. "The children of Connecticut have to know that many of the things they take for granted in terms of rights were not freely given by employers," he said from the Senate floor. Sen. Looney added, those rights "had to be fought for by workers who showed great courage and made great sacrifice."
 
Less than two weeks later the state House of Representatives passed the bill with an 84 to 61 vote. State Rep. Ed Vargas, a veteran educator and former Hartford Federation of Teachers president, in the floor debate clearly articulated the need for the legislation. "Traditionally history has been taught from the point of view of the kings, the queens, presidents, the captains of industry,'' Rep. Vargas said.
 
Click here for P.A. No. 15-17, An Act Concerning a Labor and Free Market Capitalism Curriculum.
 
AFT Connecticut Secretary-Treasurer Ed Leavy has for each of the past several years testified in support of similar legislation at the State Capitol. As both a long-time educator and unionist he has passionately made the case for empowering students to learn the lessons of labor history.
 
"Life as we know it today would be impossible without the contribution of organized labor," Leavy told the legislature's Education Committee in February. "The men and women who struggled against deplorable working conditions, bias and abuse deserved the right to be remembered," he said.
 
Leavy contributes a regular column on labor history for the newsletter distributed to his fellow State Vocational Federation of Teachers' union members. Since January they have been cross-posted here at the AFT Connecticut website in order to reach an even wider audience.
 
Click here for Leavy's latest entry on taking to the streets to close the gender wage gap.
 
At the AFT TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference earlier this month Leavy sat down with the host of The Rick Smith Show, a Pennsylvania-based progressive talk radio program, to discuss labor history. He shared our union’s legislative success with the show’s audience, which has been growing in response to its regular “Labor History in 2:00” segment that began airing last year.
 
Click here for the interview and to subscribe to the show's podcast.
 
Joining AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel at yesterday's bill signing were union allies that have added their voices to the campaign to incorporate labor history in the state's school curriculum. Members of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association (GNHLHA) and the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), both long-time champions of the measure, also attended.
 
In testimony earlier this year, GNHLHA Vice-President Steve Kass told lawmakers that a recent national poll found 54 percent of adults know 'little' or 'not much' about America's unions. "The purpose of the legislation is to get labor's untold story told," Kass, a retired member of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, told the Education Committee at the time.
 
Thanks to the persistence and perseverance of union activists like Kass and Leavy, the untold story will soon be told to a new generation of students.