Union Awareness in Public Schools

By Paula A. Matyas

     What are we as organized laborers doing to instill in the next generation of workers a knowledge and respect for the invaluable impact the union has had on the rights and freedoms of its members?
     I posed this question to our Education Chair Dick Kepler, and asked if we ever went into the schools to do a time line of the union’s history for the students. Kepler explained that if we do in fact go into the schools, usually at the high school level, and gave a brief overview of how union history is presented.
     As a matter of a general course, Kepler is making sure that the teacher requesting our introduction is given a copy of the film depicting the 1937 Sit Down Strike in Flint for the class to preview.
     There is a great advantage in showing this film because it provides a vivid and interesting prelude to any history we teach. It projects the struggles of the auto workers in a realistic vain. As we know, the history of organized labor is often slanted and the public in general has an idea of us as brutal and violent. Because of the film’s live footage, it shows the very human side of the people who fought by “sitting down” not “raising arms”. It documents the events surrounding the strike and the courage and fortitude they possessed.
      With this film setting the stage, the Education Committee, along with the members of our Local 652 leadership, then go into the classrooms to present a history session.
      This  method of educating our youth about who and what we as organized labor are, and what we continue to try and preserve and fortify is an invaluable avenue to the mindset of our future adult citizens. Having a clear view  and first hand knowledge of the struggles and sacrifices that were made to win our first victory and sign our first contract is very powerful.
      These young people will learn that the benefits we have gained in health, safety and workers rights, as well as the privilege of the grievance procedure were not just readily handed over by the large corporations. They will come to the understanding that these benefits were negotiated for the bargaining table and that no where else can such a diverse group come together to agree or disagree to come to terms and finally settle by conferring except in the format of collective bargaining. And most importantly, this exists only workers organize and unite.
     Presenting this knowledge from the Union members and our leadership face-to-face in the classroom is a very effective way to enlighten and encourage our youth by providing first hand knowledge of the auto workers style