Wisconsin Labor History Society
Report on Activities
By Steve Cupery, President
Wisconsin Labor History Society
Since our beginning 35 years ago, the Wisconsin Labor History Society has dedicated its efforts to preserving and promoting the history of Wisconsin’s working people and the unions they created.
Remembering our past is the blueprint for the future. The story of Wisconsin workers struggling for the eight-hour-day in 1886, holding sitdown strikes in the 1930s and participating in the nation’s longest strike from 1954 to 1964 are stories of the solidarity that created Wisconsin’s proud unions. That solidarity was shown more recently in the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011.
Now, workers and unions face difficult challenges and we can look to that glorious history as a guiding light for the future.
The Wisconsin Labor History Society had a particularly active 2016, we look forward to even more activity in 2017 and beyond.
Annual Conference: Immigration, one of the most controversial issues of 2016, was addressed at our 35th Annual Conference in May at UAW Local 72 Hall in Kenosha. More than 100 persons attended to learn how the immigration movement and unions can work together. Recent immigrants told of their experiences. Jesus Salas, unionist and longtime advocate for migrant workers, was awarded the Society’s Solidarity Award at the conference.
Bay View Tragedy: More than 300 attended the 130th Anniversary Commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy in May. This popular and traditional event honors the seven who were shot and killed by the state militia while in a rally for the eight-hour day. The Milwaukee Public Theatre and the Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre staged a dramatic re-enactment of the tragic incident, us that the fight for the eight-hour-day was a bloody one and continues.
Labor in the Schools: Since our founding in 1981, we have recognized the importance of educating our children who one day will be entering the workplace. They must be made aware that workers need collective action to gain decent standards of living and safe and humane working conditions. We sponsor:
- Labor History Essay Contest with generous cash prizes for high school students in the state;
- National History Day contests with prizes to encourage state middle and high school students to create exhibits with a labor history theme.
The funds needed for the prizes in the above two projects were provided by donations from nearly 40 local unions or labor councils throughout the state.
Labor History in the Schools State Legislation: The Society was instrumental in getting the State of Wisconsin to pass Act 99 in 2009, calling for the inclusion of labor history topics in standards covering our school curriculum. While publication of the standards has been stalled due to controversy over the adoption of Common Core standards, the law is valuable since it recognizes that teachers are encouraged to teach about labor.
Frank P. Zeidler Academic Awards: Thanks to donations made to our Legacy Fund, the Society was able to provide again this year a $1,000 award for a graduate academic paper. This years’ award went to Matthew Kearney, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison for his paper on the Wisconsin Uprising of 2011. This award is made annually for undergraduate and/or graduate papers to encourage academic research in labor history in Wisconsin.
Communications and Media: Our online newsletter comes out monthly – more often when news requires it – and has won a high percentage of “opens.” If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also publish our printed newsletter on a quarterly basis. We are revamping our website to make it even more accessible as a valuable resource for our members and other interested parties.
Website link: http://wisconsinlaborhistory.org.
Membership is growing: We are gratified for the loyalty of our members (individual and organizational), as indicated by the high renewal rate each year. We hope this year to develop a program to expand our membership. For our needed operational income, we rely on membership dues and donations and that makes us doubly thankful for the great support from our friends throughout the state and elsewhere.
Other support: We wish to thank the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and its officers for the continued support the Federation provides us with office space and other key logistical support that is so necessary for an organization that is basically voluntary.
Looking ahead: The WLHS Board of Directors has pledged to invest in building for the future. We will be organizing our archives to assure that they will be accessible for historians and others, as well as to up-grade our website.
Labor’s heritage is a story of struggle, defeats and victories; it’s a story of how working people have gained better standards of living, safer and healthier working conditions and dignity for themselves and their families through numerous examples of courage and solidarity. Labor’s history gives us the inspiration to move forward and the Wisconsin Labor History Society is proud to play a role in preserving and promoting that history.