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Unit 6: Emergence of Modern America


Whose Fruits and Just Desserts?

by Dawn J. Bixby Saari


Grade Level: 9-12, At-Risk High School

Discipline: U. S. History


Lesson Abstract:

This lesson asks (and answers?) the ultimate labor question – Who really deserves to enjoy and savor the greater share of the fruits of the working man’s labor?


In this learning journey, students will examine the causes and consequences of labor strife between 1900 and 1920.  In their search for truth and deeper understanding, they will take into consideration the needs and wants of labor and the reactions of “capital” and, ultimately, extrapolate their understandings to the current state of labor relations and related issues such as the growth of the service sector and illegal immigrants. 

Then, as now, the country was in a state of flux due to the drastic social and cultural changes in society that occurred as the dominant form of economy; at that time agriculture and individual-based subsistence; was firmly supplanted by capitalist industry which requires that many do the work and a few others determine the value not only of the work, but also of the product that results; the difference between which they also control.  The system has its merits, but it also clearly has it drawbacks as is evidenced by the extreme abuses and deprivation of fundamental human rights and liberties endured by those on the production end of the system during the latter 19th and early 20th centuries.   

To aid them in developing their understanding, students will “listen” to voices of people who dared to buck the system; sometimes at the cost of their lives; in order that lives of others might be improved.  Through their own investigations, they will discover the depth and breadth of “capital’s” oppression of the working man and decide for themselves: Whose Fruits and Just Desserts.


Standards Addressed

Connecticut Social Studies Curriculum Framework

Content Standard 1: Historical Thinking


1.9-10.1           Gather, analyze & reconcile historical information including contradictory data from primary and secondary sources to support or reject hypothesis.

1.9-10.2           Interpret oral traditions and legends and “histories”

1.11-12.3         Evaluate data within the history, social, political and economic context  within which it was created

1.11-12.3         Describe the multiple intersecting causes of events.

Content Standard 3:  Historical Themes


3.9-10.3           Demonstrate and understanding of the ways race, gender, ethnicity and class issues have affected individuals and societies in the past.

3.11-12.2         Identify various parties and analyze their interest in conflicts from selected historical periods.


Content Standard 4: Applying History


Describe relationships between historical subject matter and other subjects they study, current issues and personal concerns.

NCSS Understandings

Era 6:   Development of the Industrial United States


Standard 3A: The student understands how the "second industrial revolution" changed the nature and conditions of work.

Standard 3B: The student understands the rise of national labor unions and  the role of state and federal governments in labor conflicts.


KEY CONCEPT:  The opposing interests and needs of labor and ownership have and continue to play a key role in American society

TLW:   Identify and assess the degraded working and living conditions which fostered the creation of the I.W.W. and fomented major strike actions in the early 1900s.  [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

TLW: Identify and explain the response of management and government at different levels to labor strife in different regions of the country. [Compare competing historical   narratives]

Procedure: 4MAT

Quadrant I: Experiencing the Experience / Reflection

  • Having One’s Cake and Eating It Too:  For this experience, I will bring in a cake and ask for a volunteer to serve it up.  As they begin to cut the cake, I will interrupt with the suggestion that since I am the teacher I should get a larger portion (1/8th) up front and that the rest of the cake should be portioned out relative to grades with any student earning less than a C being ineligible for a share.  They can scoop up the crumbs and frosting with a spoon.  (Thanks to Dave Crocker for this idea)

  • ?s for Discussion: Who should get how much and why?  Who should decide; the group or the person with the most “power?”  What gives a person more power than another?  If the cake represented $ for work, what would eventually happen to those who get the dregs?  Is this fair?  Why/Why Not?

  • Worker’s Rights and Benefits: Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the following protections for workers: a 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, the ban on child labor, the right to form and join unions, and safety standards in the workplace. Each group should report to the class on the following: what the protection is (as defined by federal law), when it became law, and what events led up to its enactment. Each group also should present at least one example of how this protection has benefited a family member, friend, or neighbor, and at least one example of a recent news story (about events in the United States or some other country) involving this protection.  

Groups will record their info on a chart so that all class members can have all  the information on hand to refer back to. 


Assessment 1: 

Students will be assessed on their participation, contribution

to the group.  Each member will be required to submit their own example of how the protection their group researched has benefited someone close to them and an example of a recent new story involving this protection.)

Quadrant II: Observation/Concept Formulation

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Students MUST examine items marked (**) and 2 additional poems/song lyrics.


A. Bread and Roses (Lyrics / Recording)

B. Solidarity Forever (Lyrics/ Recording)

C. We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years (Lyrics / Recording)

D. Eight Hours (Lyrics)

E. The Commonwealth of Toil (Sheet Music)

F. Bread and Roses Information

G. Coal Miner’s Last Words  (Text)

 H. “Forty-Two Cents an Hour” for Twelve to Fourteen Hours a Day: George Milkuvich Describes Work Conditions in the Clairton Mills after World War I. (Testimony) (Text)

I. God Must Work In Some Other Mine (Text) **

J. Law and Order in Lawrence (Illustration)  **

K. He Built The Road (Illustration)

L. Why Should Workers Produce for Idlers? (Illustration)

M. What We Were Paid (Illustration)

  • Text for “I” may be found in: Spargo, John. "God Must Work in Some Other Mine" from The Bitter Cry of Children reprinted in Ordinary Americans; U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, ed. by Linda R. Monk. Alexandria, VA: Close-Up Publishing, 1994.

  • “J” Illustration see Kornbluh – Rebel Voices an IWW Anthology, p. 161

  • “K” Illustration see Kornbluh – Rebel Voices an IWW Anthology, p. 70

  • “L” Illustration see Kornbluh – Rebel Voices an IWW Anthology, p. 41

Assessment 2:

After students finished reviewing the documents, they will            write a brief      description of the “picture” they got of living/working conditions in the early 1900’s and    respond to the question:  What are the similarities/differences between conditions then and those that exist today? (Reference chart compiled in Quadrant I activity)               

Matewan: Video    

Assessment 3: 

At the conclusion of the video, students will outline the tactics employed by the Baldwin-Felts company to control the workers and keep them from forming a union.  Their responses should reflect the escalation in violence and attempts to deprive        residents of fundamental rights.  (Bringing in scabs, division through racial prejudice/language, the use of scrip, intimidation, eviction from homes, assault, murder) 

Summary Exercise/Class discussion of evidence uncovered thus far:

The workers of Matewan worked long, hard hours for little pay.  Were they living the American Dream, enjoying its promise of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Why/Why Not?  Explain your answer.                         

Quadrant 3:      Practice and Personalization

Groups: Loggers, Miners, Mill Workers, Steel Workers, Farm Hands  

Each group will be given a list of websites to research the living/work experiences of people who worked in that particular industry, what they wanted, the methods they employed to improve their situation, the position of ownership/ “capital’s” on the matter,    and the response of both “capital” and the government.  (For the purpose of expediting this process, additional resource materials would also be provided.)

Amongst themselves, students will decide who is responsible for gathering data on: the   workers, the owners, specific incidents.  ** Students will be informed at this point that in addition to gathering factual data, they also will want to be developing a sense of the feelings behind the actions.  They will need to “know” the participants as they will get to “become” them for the final activity.


Assessment 4: Who, Did What, Where, When, Why, How, and What Happened as a result thereof? 

Students will assume the role of a news reporter reporting on OR a citizen responding to one of the incidents between labor and “capital” that their group uncovered in their research.  Their response must answer the following questions about the incident: Who, Did What, Where, When, Why, and What Happened as a Result?  For the purposes of making the product accessible to a variety of intelligences, I have provided students with several options for presenting their report of/response to the incident.  Regardless of the format students choose, their work must have a catchy/sensationalist headline/title,   compelling photo/illustration (Options 1 & 2) and clear evidence of pro worker or pro   “capital” bias.


  • Headline News Article (Linguistic/Interpersonal)

  • Action News 8 Report (Filmed & Scripted With Partner) (Linguistic/Interpersonal)

  • Labor Protest Song/Rap (Musical/Interpersonal)

  • Collage/Cartoon Strip/Editorial Cartoon (Spatial/Interpersonal)

This assignment stresses Point of View; not only of the participants in the historical  incident (Interpersonal) but also of the students themselves (Intrapersonal).  In order to        determine and be able to emphasize their own position, students will need to read between the lines and take into account the feelings and motives of participants on both sides of the incident under review and ask themselves several questions: Who was right? Was one side more right than the other? If so, why? Were the actions of (a) labor and (b)    “capital” appropriate given the circumstances?

Quadrant 4: Integrating application/experience

“Geraldo” / The Jerry Springer Show (Thanks to Gina Sharpe for this idea)

Students will decide amongst themselves who will be the hosts (2) of the “talk show,”    who will represent labor (5 – one from each labor group) and who “capital”/government      (remainder).  Students will be provided with a basic script to follow for purposes of   “preparing” themselves for their roles.  Students representing the two sides will share their experiences amongst their respective faction (Labor/”Capital” in order to prepare a logical and comprehensive “picture” of their woes/wants/needs. The aim of Labor is to   illustrate their oppression and justify their action of going on strike.  The aim of “Capital” is to convince the audience (teacher/students borrowed from other classes)     that: (1) if they give workers what they want, it will be detrimental to the economy and         thus to the general public (2) any restriction of liberty, suppression of free speech/use of force was/is necessary.

Assessment 5:

Part 1: Prior to beginning the talk show – Moderators will turn in the list of questions      they intend to ask the participants, Labor their in common list of complaints against     “capital” and (group) specific evidence of the injustices/abuse they’ve endured at the hands of “Capital,” and “Capital” their examples of how workers undermine/sabotage      the company, the “costs” to society of giving in to workers demands.

Post-show Activities/Assessment 6:

  • Class Discussion

  • Color Me Red Record-Ing and Reflection (Thanks to the Staff at the Andy Warhol Museum for this idea)

Students will create a visual record of both the past and present of Labor Conflict on a record album. On Side One of the album they will paste images and word scraps (snippets of relevant quotes/headlines/labor protest songs etc.) from the Wobblies/Red Scare era of Labor Conflict and on Side Two images and word scraps reflecting the Labor situation in the present – Sweatshops, outsourcing, Wal-Mart, living wage, illegal immigrants etc.  Once they are done with their Record-Ings, we will seal them with a school safe substance to preserve them for posterity.

Background Information, Illustration, Music & Video Resources

  • Bigelow, William and Diamond, Norman. The Power in Our Hands: A Curriculum on the History of Work and Workers in the United States. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988.
  • Cohen, Ronald D., and Dave Samuelson, comps. and eds. Songs for Political Action: Folk music Topical Songs and the American Left. 1926-1953.  Hamburg, Germany: Bear Family Records.
  • Foner, Moe. Images of Labor, A Bread and Roses Book. Pilgrim Press, 1981.
  • Foner, Phillip S. History of the Labor Movement in the United States. Volume IV: The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917. New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1965.
  • Fowke, Edith and Glazer, Joe, editors. Songs of Work and Protest. New York: Dover Publications, 1973.
  • Goldberg, David J. A.  Tale of Three Cities: Labor Organization and Protest in Paterson, Passaic, and Lawrence, 1916-1921.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989
  • Green, Archie.  Wobblies, Pile Butts and Other Heroes: Laborlore Explorations. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
  • Gutfeld, Arnon. Montana's Agony: Years of War and Hysteria, 1917-1921. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1979.
  • Halker, Clark D. For Democracy, Workers and God: Labor Song-Poems and Labor Protest, 1865-95. Urbana-University of Illinois Press. 1995
  • Kornbluh, Joyce L. Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1964.
  • Kraft, Betsy Harvey. Mother Jones: One Woman's Fight for Labor. New York: Clarion, 1995.
  • Preston, William, Jr. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903-1933. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963.
  • Sullivan, Joseph W. Marxists, Militants, & Macaroni: The I.W.W. in Providence's Little Italy - Kingston,R.I.: Rhode Island Labor History Society, 2000,
  • Werstien, Irving. Pie in the Sky: An American Struggle. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1969.

Related Links:


  • 10,000 BLACK MEN NAMED GEORGE (2002, Robert Townsend) Union activist Asa Philip Randolph's efforts to organize the porters of the Pullman Rail Company in 1920s America.
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940): John Ford's Oscar-winning classic from 1940 is a powerful movie interpretation of the poignant John Steinbeck novel. The story follows the peregrinations and travails of the Joad family as they move from the Dust Bowl of Depression-era Oklahoma to the migrant labor farm camps of California.
  • Salt of the Earth (1953): Made on a shoe-string budget, this gritty classic used real-life union activists who were involved in a New Mexico copper miners' strike. The scenes depicting picket lines and altercations with scabs are the "real deal". Made during the height of McCarthyism, the film was banned and many of the participants were blacklisted, and the lead actress was deported to Mexico.
  • Harlan County,USA (1977): Pro-Union documentary that follows the entire course of a miners' strike in Kentucky. Shows confrontations with scabs, cops, and armed company thugs. Guaranteed to get you motivated.
  • Northern Lights (1978) Documentary on farmers in N. Dakota facing ruination in 1915-16, organizing Nonpartisan League.
  • Norma Rae (1979): Depicts an organizing drive in a hostile Southern textile mill.
  • The Wobblies (1979, Deborah Shaffer & Stewart Bird) A documentary about the IWW
  • The Killing Floor (1984): Set against the backdrop of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, this film follows two young African-American men who head north to look for work in Chicago's meatpacking industry. Management try to break the union by fomenting tensions between white and black workers.
  • Matewan (1987): Accurate and dramatic depiction of the real-life struggles of striking coal miners in post-WWI West Virginia. A union organizer struggles to bring white, African-American, and Italian immigrant miners together in the face of murderous company opposition. Based on a true story.
  • Spies in Steel, The Dollar a Day Man (Tom Selinski 1997) US Steel Trust's anti-union use of spies in 1928.


Newscast/Newspaper Report Rubric (Options 1 & 2)









attention in a creative way.

Headline introduces

idea but does

not grab the reader’s


Headline is missing or inapprop-



Lead contains

5 W’s: Who

What, When, Where, Why?

Lead contains

3 or 4 of the

5 W’s



less than 2

or the 5 W’s



facts are


Most of the historical

acts are


Historical facts are inaccurate or non-existent.


Provides a


account of

the event.

Answers the question:

What hap-


as a result


Provides a somewhat


account of

the event. 

May answer

the question: What hap-

pened as a

result thereof.

Provides minimal or

no details about the event.



clearly wraps

up the paper. 



not clear. 


is minimal

in its summary.


Point of view supported

using rich or persua-

sive detail & provocative illustrations.

Point of view apparent but unclear at

times.  Illustrations

may not be

stir strong, supportive emotions in audience.

Limited evidence of

a point of view.  Illustrations selected without thought for purpose.


Script/Article is typed neatly

in paragraphs

with few




is typed neatly,

most of it is in paragraphs,

and has

several minor mechanical


Script/Article is not typed, with numerous mechanical errors which are some-what distracting.


** Newscast only

Partner inter-

action has

been focused,

and cooperative

during all

project phases;

including appropriate

use of com-puters/Internet

for research, editing and publishing




support for

work to be accom-


including appropriate

use of com-


for research, editing and publishing.

Partner provided minimal support for work to be accom-plished on computer/ Internet.



OPTION 3: Labor Protest Song/Rap

Students will complete the Guide for Writing a Reform Song template

  1. Identify the (reform) topic of your song.

  2. State your opinion about the events surrounding this issue.

  3. List at least four facts supporting your opinion.

  4. Begin to draft your song. Make sure it clearly expresses your views and is backed up by historical facts and evidence. The following tips may be helpful:

    • Writing song lyrics is similar to writing a poem.

    • Song lyrics can rhyme but it is not necessary.

    • You may decide to use the tune and rhythm of a familiar song (e.g. "Three Blind Mice") and simply rewrite the lyrics.

    • A chorus reinforcing your opinion may be used repeatedly throughout the song.

  5. On a separate sheet of paper, write a draft of your song. Make sure you include a title which reflects the theme of your song. Prepare a typed final copy.

  6. Be prepared to share lyrics and, if you care to create one, a cover sheet with classmates.

  7. Explain: how does this project connect with what I have learned?

Rubric for Labor Protest Song/Rap (Option 3)






Title grabs reader’s attention

in a creative way.

Title intro-

duces song

but does not grab the reader’s attention.

Title is

missing or inappro-




facts are accurate. 

4 or more

facts are included in song.

Most of the historical

facts are accurate. 

3 facts are presented in song.


facts are inaccurate

or non-


2 or less

facts included

in song.


Relates a detailed account

of the event.

Relates some

of the details

of the event 


minimal or

no details

about the



Message to listener is

very clear

and strong. 

The message

is evident

but not completely

clear or convincing. 

Song may contain a message,

but it is not clear.





with smooth delivery that holds

audience attention.

Relatively interesting, rehearsed

with a fairly smooth

delivery that usually holds audience attention most of the time.


not smooth

and did not hold attention of audience.


Option 4: Sensationalist Drawing/Collage/ Editorial Cartoon/Cartoon Strip

Rubric for a Visual Product

Collage, Political/Editorial Cartoon or Cartoon Strip, ETC. (Also used to assess student Record-Ings for final project)






Historical Content

Contains several facts and details that explain and explore the main ideas of the topic. Information goes beyond the basic and demonstrates a deeper level of research and understanding.

Contains sufficient facts and details to explain the main ideas of the topic

Some necessary facts and details are present; may contain irrelevant or incorrect information; may be very basic or simplistic

Few facts or details are present; may contain several pieces of incorrect or irrelevant information



and unique symbols included. Analogy, humor, or insight used. Point of artifact is clear, but

not explicitly stated as

text; clear position


Appro-priate symbols used;

point of artifact

is clear; position taken

Slightly inaccurate

or inappro-priate symbols used; point of artifact

not clear;

no position taken

Incorrect symbols

used. Artifact and/or

symbols not under-standable.

Visual Appeal

Color well used. Neat and clear

with no


pencil lines. Publishable

Color used. Neat.

Color missing. Slightly messy.

No color used. Messy.