Wisconsin Labor History Society

Mission: The Wisconsin Labor History Society is dedicated to preserving and telling the stories of workers and unions in Wisconsin.

  • Endorsed by the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO   
  • Affiliated with the Wisconsin Historical Society


Immigrants offer hope for future growth of labor movement:  35th Annual Conference report.

The future growth of the labor movement may depend heavily upon the nation’s more than 42 million immigrants.

That theme emerged during discussions at the 35th Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Labor History Society held May 21 at UAW Local 72 in Kenosha.  The more than 100 persons

Part of the 100 who attended annual conference.

Part of the 100 who attended annual conference.

attending gained insight into the struggles of recent immigrants face in this country, learned about labor’s “checkered history” in dealing with immigrants and discovered what unions currently are doing to assure all workers are  properly represent.

The topic was “especially timely,” commented WLHS President Steve Cupery who said he hoped the discussion may provide unionists with a “new understanding as to how to combat those fellow workers that may be tempted by the demagoguery of Donald Trump.”  He said it’s an obligation to challenge such thinking.

Immigrants are becoming a larger part of the nation, now totaling 13% of the U.S. population and have grown in Wisconsin from 2.5% in 1990 to 5% in 2014, commented Sergio Gonzalez, a doctoral student in history from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Gonzalez is also co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association at the university and a Latino leader.  He spoke in place of Immanuel Ness, an activist and professor of sociology at New York University who cancelled due to illness.

He challenged the assumption of some unionists that immigrants either shouldn’t be or can’t be organized.  He noted the energy of the more than 20,000 protesters in Madison in February to oppose anti-immigrant legislation, comparing it with then 2,000 who demonstrated a year earlier against right-to-work laws at the Capitol.  He cited, too, as evidence of activism that is alive among immigrants the success of the Day without Latinos and Immigrants.

Read full report.


130th Annual Bay View Tragedy commemoration draws hundreds

As has been the tradition for the last 30 years, several hundred gathered at a lakefront site to remember one of Wisconsin’s most tragic and bloodiest events.

The 130th Anniversary Commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy was held Sunday, May 1, on the site of the State Historical Marker for the Bay View Rolling Mills, S. Superior St. and E. Russell Ave., Milwaukee.

The incident occurred on May 5, 1886 when some 1500 demonstrators, mainly workers, marched toward the old Bay View Rolling Mills plant (the city’s largest manufacturer) in a march for the 8-hour day.  They were fired upon by the State Militia, following orders of Wisconsin’s governor, and seven were killed.  Read more about the history of the event..

Become A Member in Preserving Labor History

A message from President Steve Cupery:

If you are not now a member, please join to support our work of providing students, teachers and the public with valuable information, curricular materials, education and research opportunities concerning Wisconsin labor history.  Become a member of the Wisconsin Labor History Society.

We have made it convenient to join:

  1. We have a membership application form at our website that you may print out, fill in the blanks and mail back.  Click here for form.
  2. You may use your credit or debit card (or PayPal) to pay your membership. Click here for instructions.

We can’t overstate the value that your membership provides to our organization.  As you know we are a completely volunteer organization, but it takes money to continue to carry on our work of preserving the history of workers and their unions in Wisconsin and to promote the study of that history in our schools.  All of our activities exist solely because of support from our members, whether they be individuals or local unions, labor councils or other organizations.

During this critical time facing our labor movement, we are confident that the telling of labor’s story to the public, particularly to our schoolchildren, is more important than ever.

Please help us continue our mission.  Act today!

Please consider joining us now. Check it out here.

New! Monthly online newsletter available: View December 16, 2015 newsletter here

34th Annual Conference attracts huge crowd to discuss ways to fight back

The Madison Labor Temple was packed with 140 participants at the 34th Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, entitled “Building Worker Power in an Era of Anti-Union Assaults: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” on Saturday, April 11.

Much of the conference focused on recent efforts to weaken unions, such as Wisconsin’s Act 10 that took away most collective bargaining rights of public employees and current efforts to pass open shop laws in the state (often erroneously referred to as “right-to-work” legislation).  A full report on the conference is available by clicking here.

129th Anniversary commemoration of Bay View Tragedy brings out large crowd

The chants of the two children of Jennifer Epps-Addison symbolized the spirit at the 129th Anniversary Commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy on May 3. “Get it up, get down, Milwaukee is a union town,” sang the two youngsters to the thrill of more than 300 persons attending the annual event held on Milwaukee’s lakefront in the Bay View neighborhood.

Larger-than-life size puppet of 1886 labor leader "speaks" at annual Bay View Tragedy event.

Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, was principal speaker, and she introduced her children to open her remarks. The children composed their own songs, always on a union theme, she said.

The event has become a tradition, having now been conducted annually for 29 years under the sponsorship of the Wisconsin Labor History Society. It recalls the May 5, 1886 killing of seven persons who were gunned down by the State Militia during a march of workers for the eight-hour-day, making it the state’s bloodiest incident involving workers.  Read more.

Renew Membership NOW for 2016!

NOW you may renew your membership in the Wisconsin Labor History Society online through PayPal. It’s quick and it’s secure.  Click here.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire links . . .

Here is the link to the essay written by a Durand High School sophomore, Makena Easker, and the Appendix and Bibliography that accompanied the story.  Click here to view.

Wisconsin Labor History in Slides

A quick look at labor history in Wisconsin may be seen by viewing this slide presentation.  Click on  “Wis Labor History Slides.”  You may download it and show it at meetings and other opportunities.