The 2009 law that requires Wisconsin teachers to teach labor union and collective bargaining history to the state’s kids is seen by union bosses in the state as a means to promote their cause, frame labor’s message in a favorable light and increase membership.
When The Daily Caller reported that the state passed such a law in December 2009, it wasn’t clear that union organizers planned to utilize it to further their agenda. Newly uncovered information from an April 2010 conference, the Wisconsin Labor History Society, a pro-union group that pushed the new law through the all-Democrat state government in 2009, shows the state’s labor organizers and union bosses do indeed plan to use the controversial new law as a propaganda tool.
“I believe we are in the midst of an irrepressible labor conflict that has pitted the haves versus the have-nots,” said University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, history professor Andrew Kersten at the conference. “As Warren Buffett has said recently, ‘There is a class war, alright, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s waging it, and we’re winning.’ It’s not merely the money or the political power they crave, they seek to transform the way we think and act on a daily basis.”
At the conference meant to help teachers prepare new curricula to comply with the new AB 172 law, Kersten went on to say that teaching union history and “the struggles of working men and women and of unionists is vital to maintaining a healthy democracy.” In his speech, Kersten also attacked President Barack Obama for not focusing on labor unions in his 2010 State of the Union address, for not getting card-check legislation passed and for failing to get controversial former union lawyer Craig Becker appointed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The history professor, who was supposed to be helping teachers prepare new classroom materials, also took a shot at then newly elected Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, for being the deciding vote against Becker on the NLRB.
“The reason why he rushed to take his seat in Washington, D.C., was not to block Obama’s medical and health insurance reforms, but to stop the appointment of Obama’s NLRB nomination, Craig Becker, the union lawyer and associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union,” Kersten said.
Union bosses at the conference included the state’s National Education Association (NEA) director, Hedy Eischeid, the state’s AFL-CIO president, David Newby and the president of Wisconsin’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Bryan Kennedy.
AFT is a union for those in higher education, so Kennedy talked about how he’d teach teachers to teach about unions. “I recognize that there is an important and special role that I have as a university educator to educate future teachers on how to educate young people about labor union history,” Kennedy said. “As educators, many of us are aware that the first exposure many teachers had to unions is when they graduated, took their first job and were told they were a member of the teachers union. If they didn’t grow up in a union household, what does that mean?”
Eischeid said it’s better to teach teachers about unions before they develop their curriculum, and wants to “connect it to them personally.”
“Many of our own folks don’t really even understand what labor has done for them. I think it really has to start with our members,” she said.
Newby said this is a battle everyone in Wisconsin has to fight, not just teachers, parents and students.
“We have got to convince both teachers and the citizens of the state that teaching labor history is appropriate and, in fact, is necessary, if students are to understand the history of this state and of this nation,” Newby said. “And, that’s really an assignment for all of us, whether you’re involved in this particular project of labor history in the schools or not. And, all of us need to be talking to our neighbors, our co-workers, our family and our friends to get them talking about it as well, particularly those that have kids.”
The AFL-CIO also provided textbooks on the subject for every high school library, according to Richard Grobschmidt, the state’s assistant superintendent at the Department of Public Instruction.
The union bosses and academics who spoke at the conference knew, too, that they’d have to defend the new law in the near future.
“Now that we have a law, we must defend it, tooth and nail, for our opponents won’t rest,” Kersten said, while railing on conservatism. “They’re angry about the changes in American politics and have, as you’ve noticed no doubt, tripped up many meaningful reforms in the state and across the nation. It may not be long before they begin to target our own new law, as they have so many others.”