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AFT Resolutions

TEACHING LABOR HISTORY

WHEREAS, attacks on the labor movement have been increasing in volume and intensity, fomented by anti-union politicians, organizations, corporations and wealthy individuals; and

WHEREAS, these attacks have spread to a number of states, including Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and elsewhere, and have been embraced by candidates for president, Congress and state office; and

WHEREAS, these attacks have been primarily focused on public employee unions, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other local, state and federal employees; and

WHEREAS, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 52 percent of Americans approve of unions, which is a new historic low, and 68 percent said unions mostly benefit only union members; however, union households have an extremely high approval rate; and

WHEREAS, research conducted by Hart Research Associates found that, of all adults, 46 percent said they knew a fair amount or a great amount about unions as opposed to 54 percent who said they knew just a little or did not know much about unions; and

WHEREAS, that same research found a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation about unions and what they do; and

WHEREAS, other studies show that the more people know about unions, the higher the approval rate; and

WHEREAS, Americans said their chief sources of knowledge about unions were personal experience (37 percent), people in unions (26 percent) and the media (25 percent), while schools were not mentioned at all; and

WHEREAS, while there are a number of well-documented reasons for the relative decline of American labor, including intense opposition from employers and their allies, it can be argued that the lack of knowledge or incorrect knowledge about unions contributed to this decline; and

WHEREAS, the lack of knowledge and support of the labor movement makes it more difficult to gain public and political support for its goals; and

WHEREAS, a number of studies conclude that the American labor movement has been—and is—a major advocate for measures to improve the lives of working families, including public education, a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, health and safety laws, progressive leave policies, the right to organize and bargain collectively, Social Security, Medicare, pensions, and improved wages and working conditions for all American workers, whether in a union or not; and

WHEREAS, if the fortunes of the American labor movement are to improve, its story must be told and told more effectively; and

WHEREAS, the Albert Shanker Institute, in cooperation with the American Labor Studies Center, published American Labor in U.S. History Textbooks: How Labor's Story is Distorted in High School History Textbooks, which concludes that labor's role in U.S. history is misrepresented, downplayed or ignored; and

WHEREAS, there exists a number of excellent programs and curricula about the rich history and economic, political, social and cultural activities of workers and their unions, but few find their way into American classrooms and labor education programs:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will continue to initiate policies and programs to assist members to understand the need for the integration of labor history into the curriculum and will continue to identify curriculum resources and strategies; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will continue to actively support and promote organizations, such as the American Labor Studies Center, that provide high-quality and extensive K–12 teaching materials about the history and activities of unions through workshops and websites.


(2012)