Monday, July 6, 2009

Teaching Labor History

Kenneth C. Davis, author of America's Hidden History, reminds us that on July 6, 1892, the Homestead Strike reached its zenith when striking steelworkers fought with strikebreakers in a daylong battle that left ten men dead. As our economy slides and workers face bleak prospects, a look back at organized labor seems appropriate.

Many of your students will relate to Cheri Register's Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir. Cheri was the first in her family to go to college--and she jokes that her Ph.D. really stands for packinghouse daughter. The daughter of a Wilson & Company millwright, she recalls the 1959 meatpackers' strike that divided her hometown of Albert Lea, Minnesota. The violence that erupted when the company "replaced" its union workers with strikebreakers tested family loyalty and community stability.

Cheri skillfully interweaves her own memories, historical research, and oral interviews into a narrative that is thoughtful and impassioned about the value of blue-collar work and the dignity of those who do it. And, she recounts the pride and dismay of her parents as she went off to college and to a life in what often seemed like another world.

There's a wonderful teaching guide for Packinghouse Daughter--written by the author--who now teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

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