Report of the President

Wisconsin Labor History Society

Report on Activities

(April 2018)

By Steve Cupery, President

Wisconsin Labor History Society

Since our last annual conference in April 2017, the Wisconsin Labor History Society has intensified its activities in preserving and promoting the proud worker and  union history in Wisconsin.  One of our strongest efforts has been  to assure that Wisconsin school children are taught about the contributions of the labor movement to this state and its people.

One of the encouraging events of the past 12 months has been the growing enthusiasm among unionists and others for our work, even in the face of the great challenges facing the labor movement.

2017 Annual Conference:  Former Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen stirred more than 150 participants at the Society’s 36th Annual Conference in Madison in April 2017.  His stirring words, “We stand up and fight back,” echoed the theme of the conference that looked at labor’s history in light of the challenges of the present day.  Jim Cavanaugh, former president of the South Central Federation of Labor and a professional archivist, was awarded the Society’s Solidarity Award at the conference.

Bay View Tragedy:  More than 300 attended the 131st 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.  The event also highlights that the fight for the eight-hour-day was a bloody one and continues today.

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 some 50 local unions, labor councils and individuals.

Labor History in the Schools Progress:  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.  In early 2018, Society leaders participated in reviewing the draft state school standards to assure labor was given sufficient recognition in the standards, expected to be published by the Department of Public Instruction soon.

Frank P. Zeidler Academic Awards:  Thanks to donations made to our Legacy Fund, the Society was able to provide again in 2017 a $1,000 award for a graduate academic paper.  The award went to Pamela Sted, a graduate student at the University of Iowa for her paper on an 1898 strike of Oshkosh match workers.  This award is made for undergraduate and/or graduate papers to encourage academic research in labor history.

Communications and Media:   Our online newsletter comes out monthly – more often when news requires it – and has won a high percentage of “opens.”  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.  View our website.

Outreach Programs.  We are pleased for opportunities to tell about Wisconsin’s important labor history at various events and forums.  In the past year we held a popular exhibit at Milwaukee’s Labor Fest, the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Alliance of Retired Americans, and elsewhere.  We provided workshops on labor history at the April 2017 sessions of the Educator’s Network for Social Justice and at the  annual State AFL-CIO Community Services Conference.  We’ve made presentations before the retirees of UAW Local 438.  To request our participation, contact us at info@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. For our needed operational income, we rely almost totally on membership dues and donations.

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.

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.  The WLHS Board agreed to take over the online mapping project that was developed by the members of the South Central Federation of Labor.

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.