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Labor in the Schools

In 1956 Central Trades & Labor Council (CTLC) delegates became concerned “that pamphlets and other media sent to city high schools by agencies of the National Association of Manufacturers were spreading big-business propaganda among Rochester students.” In response the CTLC developed a program of inviting students to visit Council meetings as spectators, “to see unionism at work.” After several St. John Fisher students visited a Council meeting in January, delegates suggested sending “blanket invitations to all area colleges asking that students make it a habit to attend council meetings to counteract anti-union propaganda being spread in the schools by big business and NAM agencies.”

Similar concerns surfaced in the 1990s, as the CTLC became a partner in Rochester-area School-to-Work programs. Although union participation in these federally-funded programs was mandatory, program initiatives were strongly influenced by the Rochester Education Alliance of Business, which promoted a business-oriented curriculum, and Junior Achievement — a national program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These materials encourage young people to see themselves as potential entrepreneurs and ignore collective action by workers.

To counterbalance this influence, the Labor Council created the Rochester Education Alliance of Labor (REAL) to bring together local educators and other workers to develop materials that unions, schools and community groups could use to learn and teach the history of work, workers, and unions. (Click here to learn more about REAL at RochesterLabor.org.) Beginning with modules developed by local teachers to make We Do the Work videos accessible to students, REAL has developed other work-related curricula as well as labor histories, including:

  • Our Community of Workers Coloring Book with captioned line drawings by Marilyn Anderson. (Available at the AFL-CIO’s Meany Center, over 40,000 copies have been distributed to unions and schools across the country.) Go to Coloring Book page »
  • REAL WorkGuide, a pocket-size booklet that addresses high school students’ questions about the world of work, including the changing US economy and workplace issues such as pay, safety, rights, and unions.
  • We Do the Work, a series of modules on 21 of the nationally broadcast TV programs about work and workplace issues. Each module includes questions, activities, vocabulary, etc. that teachers can use along with program videos.
  • Rochester Labor History Map/Guide is a pocket-size booklet commemorating the history of the city’s working people through self-guided tours, with maps and site-specific text.
  • Struggle in Smugtown: Rochester’s Workers, Radicals and Reformers, a 45-minute video documentary which begins to tell the story of Rochester’s work, unions, and struggles for social justice. A companion Teachers Video Guide is an instructional aid for secondary teachers. For more information go to Struggle in Smugtown page »

Many of the materials produced by REAL can be found on the Work Curriculum pages of the Education Materials section of the RochesterLabor.org Web Site. Go to Work Curriculum page »

Other material will become available at this site, including Rochester: A Community of Workers, an exhibit that grew out of a project to document the work of members of unions affiliated with the Rochester Labor Council. The exhibit was first displayed at Rochester’s City Hall in 1991 and later shown in many Rochester-area schools. Its 100 black-and-white photos and excerpts from worksite interviews explore the community of work and workers which is Rochester. These images and text convey the themes of the exhibit: recognition and appreciation of the diversity and significance of workers’ labor, workers’ sense of personal worth and pride in their skills, the transformation of work tasks over time. “This exhibit is a good idea,” commented one worker, “because there's a lot of misrepresentation of union workers.” View a sample of Exhibit text and image »

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