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Content Reading Guide: The Rise of Unions
The business owners in the late 1800s and early 1900s had strength in the amount of revenue and money they obtained. The common workers’ strength was present in their numbers. Unions were organizations that demand better working conditions, higher pay, increased safety measures, and other requests collectively. Many workers were frustrated with the long work hours of factory life. Many worked 12-16 hours a day 7 days a week. There were no sick days, vacations days, workers compensation for injuries, or any other humane policies like these. The factories were incredibly dangerous, filthy, and contained numerous health hazards.
Unions attempted to bargain collectively to achieve their goals. This means that individual workers did not protest alone, but did so as a group. They would elect leaders who would negotiate with the business owners for higher pay, safer conditions, and other requests. Also, if demands were not met, workers would refuse to work and protest near their work facility in a tactic called a strike.
William Sylvis formed the National Labor Union in the late 1860s for iron workers. The NLU initially had racist policies for membership; they only allowed whites to join their group. The NLU eventually gained over 600,000 members and lobbied for Congress to enforce an 8 hour work day. Other unions formed as well, such as Uriah Stephens’ group, the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor allowed all races to join their group.
The American Federation of Labor, a collection of unions from various occupations, led by Samuel Gompers, aggressively used strikes more than other unions. The Industrial Workers of the World consisted of miners, lumber workers, and dock workers. They were led by William Haywood. Eugene V. Debs tried to unite skilled and unskilled workers into unions. He led the American Railway Union that united unskilled workers with trained engineers.
The USA economy was based on Capitalism. In this system, individuals who own private businesses sell goods or services for a profit. Some argued capitalism was good and created incentive for business to innovate and advance over time. Others argued capitalism made business owners rich, while most people were trapped in poverty. Some wanted Socialism, a system in which the government controls most of the production of goods and attempts to improve the quality of life for common workers. Capitalists argued socialism would remove the incentive to improve goods and services over time.
Several incidents with unions turned violent in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. For instance, in the Haymarket Affair, protesters were outraged that a striker was killed by officers at the McCormick Harvester Plan in Chicago. A police line formed against the workers and someone lobbed an explosive into the police line. Several officers and workers died in the conflict. This created suspicion and fear toward unions in the USA.
Minorities were often discriminated against by unions. Many unions were segregated. Yet, this did not stop minorities from also organizing labor to support common workers. African Americans unionized and formed the Colored National Labor Union and other unions. Often, women were also excluded from unions. Yet, women such as Pauline Newman and others attempted to unionize women who were laborers. Newman helped to create the Ladies Garment Workers Union.
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US History Lesson Plans Include
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2) PowerPoint presentation
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4) Bonus worksheet (vocabulary, crosswords, word search, etc.)
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