Social Education 57(7), 1993, pp. 367-369
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

Citizen Action in Historical Perspective: A Simulation on the Labor Movement in the Mid-1800s

Rahima C. Wade
University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
What immediately comes to mind when you read the words, labor movement? If you were an elementary or secondary student, your answer would probably be "union" or "strike" and little else. Many educators have noted how the historic struggles of laborers tend to be omitted, distorted, or diminished in social studies textbooks. Some have suggested that because of the socializing function of schooling, alternative economic structures such as American socialism, receive little attention (Anyon 1979; Apple 1983; Kickbush 1985; Zinn 1980). Topics of great human interest, such as the labor movement, lose their dynamism in the classroom or are ignored altogether (Goodlad 1983).
Although some collaborative efforts have developed labor studies curricula and programs, a critical need still exists for educators and students to learn about the importance of labor history and its meaning to their lives today (Glass 1982). The labor movement is an excellent example of grassroots citizenship in a democracy. Teachers can use labor history to teach about conflict resolution strategies, the moral dilemma of law versus conscience, and personal qualities, such as courage and persistence, that are part of working for long-term change. Given the abundance of social and environmental issues facing our society today, the lessons about citizen action gained through the study of labor history should be central to social studies teaching.

This article describes some approaches that might enliven classroom study of the labor movement and further students' understanding of the human issues and struggles involved. The following is a simulation on the labor movement for 5th graders through college students, with complete directions and follow up activities. Teachers can complete the activity and discussion easily in one class session. This simulation will also motivate students to do subsequent research on labor history. Also discussed are additional ideas for making labor studies interesting and relevant for students.

This simulation requires at least fourteen participants, yet can easily accommodate up to forty students. It is simple to conduct and requires no materials other than copies of the role cards below, a chalkboard, and chalk. As the simulation unfolds, all participants have the opportunity to improvise and respond to the events as they occur.

1. Give each student a role card with the role and associated directions. Ask each student to read the card assigned and not to share the information with other students. Do not read aloud the various roles or tell the class who is involved or the events that will occur in the simulation. The element of surprise adds to students' interest and enjoyment.

2. Complete the following steps prior to beginning the simulation.

Student Role Cards
You are one of two owners of the mill.
1-Stand on a chair, call all the workers together, and announce that their lunch hour will be changed, beginning tomorrow, from 12:00 Noon to 1:00 p.m.
5-Stand on a chair, call all the mill workers together, and announce that there will be no more cash wages paid. Instead, workers will be paid in scrips they can use for goods at the company store.
9-With the other mill owner, announce that you will not recognize or bargain with any union leaders or other workers. As far as you are concerned, the work conditions are excellent at the mill.
You are one of two owners of the mill.
2-Stand on a chair, call together the workers, and announce that since the lunch hour is later, the work day will be increased an extra hour but there will be no additional pay.
9-With the other mill owner, announce that you will not recognize or bargain with any union leaders or other workers. As far as you are concerned, the work conditions are excellent at the mill.
You are a mill worker who tries to organize a union.
3-Stand on a chair, call together the workers, and tell them how unfair and unsafe working at the mill is, and that the time has come to organize a union to bargain with the owners of the mill for better working conditions, shorter hours, and cash wages.
You are a worker who tries to organize a strike.
7-As quietly as possible, spread the word that there will be a secret meeting to organize a union and plan for a strike in Clayton's barn after work. (Point to the area of the room where the barn is.) Lead the meeting. Tell the workers how a strike will help them all get better working conditions, shorter hours, and cash wages.
8-Lead the picket line around the room.
11-Argue persuasively against breaking into the company store.
You are a mill worker. Support the actions proposed by other mill workers and
6-Go to the company store and try to buy a bag of flour with two scrips. Afterwards, go back and tell the other workers what happened.
11- In the discussion at Clayton's barn, argue persuasively for breaking into the company store.
You are a mill worker. Support the actions proposed by other mill workers and
10- Call a meeting at Clayton's barn. Lead a discussion about the possible benefits and disadvantages of a break-in of the company store.
12- Lead a break-in of the company store at midnight. Gather as many workers as you can to go with you. Encourage everyone to destroy and steal as many goods as they can.
You are a mill worker. Support the actions proposed by other mill workers and
14- Fall down dead after the gun shots.
(Make four copies of the above role card and directions.)
You are the company store owner.
6-When a worker comes to buy ßour from you for two scrips, announce that the price has doubled to four scrips through no fault of your own, just the bad economy of the U.S.
You are a police officer.
4-Arrest the first person who tries to organize a union and take that person off to jail.
15- Arrest one of the people who has broken into the company store.
You are a police officer.
13- Fire six shots into the crowd at the store.
15- Arrest one of the people who has broken into the company store.
You are a mill worker.
Consider the consequences of each action proposed by the mill workers and do what seems right.
(Make as many copies as needed of this last role for the remaining students in the class.)

Debrie&Mac222;ng and Follow-up Activities
Following the simulation, encourage students to share the thoughts and feelings they experienced. As a worker, did you feel swept along by the crowd? If you participated in the company store break-in, what was your reason for doing so? Did you feel justi&Mac222;ed in your actions? As an owner, how did you respond to workers' unrest? All players can discuss what they might do differently if they were given a change to replay the events.

The simulation ends on a provocative note that invites students to ask questions and extend their research on this important period in U.S. history. What kinds of unfair and unsafe labor practices were workers concerned about? Did most workers choose to follow union organizers? Were some workers not swept along, and if so, why? Were workers killed during the labor movement? How frequently did workers resort to violence? What peaceful means did workers or management use to try to effect change? What successes and failures followed their efforts? These are just a few of the questions students and teachers can explore together.

Discuss with students how the events in the simulation compare to the information in their social studies textbook on the labor movement. The simulation does not represent any particular incident in labor history yet it incorporates elements from many real-life events. Does the simulation present labor workers or management in a biased manner? For example, were workers frequently involved in illegal acts such as breaking into a company store? Did management often refuse to listen to workers' concerns? Did some owners treat laborers with respect and were they hurt by the rise of unions?

After students have completed research about the labor movement, continue the simulation by role playing negotiations and mediation processes between management and labor. Students can create positions representing both sides and then choose representatives to argue their cases.

Other Activities
Teachers can also take advantage of many excellent fiction and nonfiction books on the labor movement. For example, Trouble at the Mines (Rappaport 1987), details the events surrounding an 1898 Pennsylvania coal strike from the perspective of a young girl named Rosie. "The book transforms trade unionism from an abstract historical concept to an intense personal struggle that children can comprehend" (McGowan and McGowan 1989, 87). Students can also learn from historical documents such as newspaper articles and company rules and regulations (AFL-CIO 1988) as well as songs and poems from the labor era (Seeger 1985).

Many resources are available to assist social studies teachers in going beyond the simple and often one-sided image of the labor movement portrayed in social studies textbooks and encourage students to think critically about the moral dilemmas and challenges faced by workers who sought to overcome injustice and improve the workplace. The valuable lessons gained from understanding the lives of laborers in the past will enliven the study of this important era in U.S. history as well as enrich students' ideas about what it means to be active citizens in their world today.

Anyon, Jean. "Ideology and United States History Textbooks." Harvard Educational Review 49 (1979): 361-86.Apple, Michael. "Curriculum in the Year 2000: Tensions and Possibilities." Phi Delta Kappan 64 (1983): 321-26.Glass, Roger S. "New Life for Labor Studies: Rediscovering America's Working Heritage." American Educator (Fall 1982): 40-43.Goodlad, John. "What Some Schools and Classrooms Teach." Educational Leadership 40, no. 7 (1983): 8-19.How Schools Are Teaching about Labor: A Collection of Guidelines and Lesson Plans. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1988. Available for $3.00 from AFL-CIO Pamphlet Division, 815 16th St., NW, Washington, DC 20006.Kickbush, Kenneth W. "Ideological Innocence and Dialogue: A Critical Perspective on Discourse in the Social Studies." Theory and Research in Social Education 13, no. 3 (1985): 45-56.McGowan, Tom, and Meredith McGowan. Telling America's Story: Teaching American History through Children's Literature. New Berlin, Wisc.: Jenson Publications, 1989.Rappaport, Doreen. Trouble at the Mines. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1987.Seeger, Pete. Carry It On! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.Teacher Resources
Atkinson, Linda. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America. N.Y.: Crown, 1978. Nonfiction, grades 6+.Bethell, Jean. Three Cheers for Mother Jones! Troy, Mo.: Holt, 1980. Nonfiction, grades 2-4.Biddle, Marcia McKenna. Labor: Contributions of Women. Minneapolis, Minn.: Dillon Press, 1979. Nonfiction, grades 7+.Bornstein, Jerry. Unions in Transition. Edgewood Cliffs, N.J.: Messner, 1981. Nonfiction, grades 7+.Claypool, Jane. The Worker in America. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985. Nonfiction, grades 6-9.Collier, James L. The Clock. New York: Delacorte Press, 1992. Fiction, grades 3-6._______. The Winchesters. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1988. Fiction, grades 5-8.Concord, Bruce W. Cesar Chavez. New York: Chelsea, 1992. Non&Mac222;ction, grades 3-5.Fisher, Leonard E. The Unions. New York: Holiday House, 1982. Non&Mac222;ction, grades 5-8.Giardina, Denise. Storming Heaven. New York: Norton, 1987. Fiction, grades 9+.Golden, Barbara. Fire! The Beginning of the Labor Movement. New York: Viking, 1992. Fiction, grades 2-5.Green, James R. World of the Worker: Labor in 20th Century America. N.Y.: Hill and Wang, 1981. Nonfiction, grades 9+.Herrick, William. That's Life: A Fiction. N.Y.: New Directions, 1985. Fiction, grades 9+.Hoffman, Alice M. Sing a Song of Unsung Heroes and Heroines: Songs of Pennsylvania Labor Pioneers. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Department of Labor Studies, 1986. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 292 738.Lens, Sidney. Strikemakers and Strikebreakers. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1985. Non&Mac222;ction, grades 7+.Levy, Elizabeth. Struggle and Lose, Struggle and Win: The United Mine Workers. New York: Four Winds Press, 1977. Nonfiction, grades 7-10.Lord, Athena V. A Spirit to Ride the Whirlwind. New York: Macmillan, 1981. Fiction, grades 6-9.Marshall, Ray. Role of Unions in the American Economy. New York: Joint Council on Economic Education, 1985. Nonfiction, grades 9+.Mays, Lucinda. The Other Shore. New York: Atheneum, 1979. Fiction, grades 7-10.McKissack, Patricia. A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter. New York: Walker, 1979. Nonfiction, grades 7-9.Patterson, Katherine. Lyddie. N.Y.: Lodestar Books, 1991. Fiction, grades 5-8.Perez, N. Breaker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. Fiction, grades 6-9.Rappaport, Doreen. Trouble at the Mines. New York: Thomas Crowell, 1987. Fiction, grades 3-5.Sachs, Marilyn. Call Me Ruth. New York: Doubleday, 1982. Fiction, grades 5-9.Sebestyen, Ouida. On Fire. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1985. Fiction, grades 7+.Seeger, Pete. Carry It On! A History in Song and Picture of the Working Men and Women of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Nonfiction, grades 9+.Sherburne, James. Poor Boy and a Long Way from Home. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Fiction, grades 9+.Skurzynski, Gloria. The Tempering. New York: Clarion Books, 1983. Fiction, grades 7-10.State Historical Society of Iowa. "Labor in Iowa." The Goldfinch 10 (February 1987): 3-31.Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Pullman Strike. Chicago: Children's Press, 1982. Nonfiction, grades 3-6.Wertheimer, Barbara. M. We Were There: The Story of Working Women in America. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Nonfiction, grades 9-12.Yount, David, and Paul DeKcock. Strike. Lakeside, Calif.: Interact Publishers, n.d. Box 997E, Lakeside, CA 92040. Grades 10-12.