aNNUAL meeting and cONFERENCE

The WLHS by-laws state that an annual meeting and conference must be held annually in April of May and the conferences have become popular, attracting more than 100 participants each year to hear labor history experts, as well as other leaders reflecting on how current times are affecting by labor struggles of the past.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 conference program portion was cancelled and a business meeting was held virtually to elect officers and conduct other business.

The 2021 Annual Meeting was held virtually on April 24 and included a program celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Society.  An unedited version of the annual meeting and the program may be viewed here.

’21 Annual conference to be held nov. 6

State’s Progressive Past to be Discussed at Labor History Conference

The Wisconsin Labor History Society will hold its Annual Conference on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the APWU Hall, 417 N. 3rd St., Milwaukee.  Tentative plans are for the conference to be held in person and also to be live-streamed, subject to any changes in the pandemic restrictions.

The conference, entitled “Progressives, Populists and Socialists: The role of labor in building a just and fair society,” will look at how Wisconsin became one of the nation’s leading states in pro-worker legislation in the early 20th Century and discuss how to restore that tradition.

Naomi Williams

Keynote speaker will be Naomi Williams, Assistant Professor, Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University, who received her Ph.D at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  She was a 2011 winner of the WLHS Zeidler Award for her paper on Wisconsin labor.

Her presentation will mark the First Annual Stephen Meyer Memorial Lecture being held in memory of the late Professor Meyer who taught labor history at UW-Parkside and at UW-Milwaukee.

John Gurda, prominent Milwaukee historian, and Jillian Jacklin, lecturer at UW-Green Bay’s  Department of Democracy and Social Justice, will participate in a panel entitled “The Rise, Decline and Future of Wisconsin Liberalism.”  Gurda will discuss labor’s role in building Milwaukee’s Socialist government and its relationship with the statewide liberalism of the early 20th Century.  Jacklin’s topic will be “The Progressive Roots of Right-Wing Populism,” tracing the change in political traditions in Wisconsin.

An afternoon session, entitled “Rebuilding a Progressive Movement,” will feature two Wisconsin State Representatives, Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) and Francesca Hong (D-Madison) and another speaker to be announced later.

The Society canceled its 2020 conference when the pandemic hit and rescheduled its 2021 event from April to the November date with the expectation that the pandemic restrictions would be relieved.  Planners stress that it will follow CDC protocols in effect at the time involving masking, social distancing and vaccinations.  Attendance will be limited, but the entire conference will be live-streamed.

Fees covering materials, attendance and lunch will be unchanged from previous years at $35 per person.  Full information and registration is available by clicking here.  For online registration, click here.

Bayview Massacre Commemoration

On the first Sunday of May every year since 1986, several hundred persons gather at the corner of E. Russell Ave. and S. Superior St., in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee to hold a Bay View Tragedy Commemoration sponsored by the Wisconsin Labor History Society.

The event is to spotlight the struggles of workers in the 19th Century to obtain decent working conditions, concentrating mainly upon establishing the eight-hour-workday.  On May 5, 1886, some 1500 laborers in a rally headed by the Knights of Labor marched toward the Bay View Rolling Mills site, campaigning for shorter work hours.  State Militia troops stationed at the site on orders from Wisconsin Gov. Jeremiah P. Rusk fired into the crowd, killing seven.

In recent years, the commemoration ceremony has featured a re-enactment of the tragic event, accompanied by a keynote speech.  Due to pandemic restrictions, the annual Commemoration of the 134th Anniversary of the Bay View Tragedy this year was a ‘virtual’ event. Originally scheduled for Sunday, May 3, the traditional outdoor ceremony has had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue the tradition, the Society arranged the following two events:

may 2, 2021

The ceremony prompted at least 50 persons to attend, as Covid-19 restrictions had been lifted; the crowd assembled in spite of little publicity.  The event had only been advertised as a virtual event.  The event was livestreamed and can be viewed here.

May 3, 2020

1)  Video links 1886 event with current crisis
A 25-minute video, entitled “The Bay View Tragedy: Remembering Champions in the Fight for the 8-Hour Day,” was produced and premiered May 1. The video features a panel discussion, and includes illustrations and music. Five historians and unionists discussed the Bay View Tragedy of May 5, 1886 and its relevance in today’s world.  Participants were:
  • John Gurda, historian and popular commentator on public television.
  • Elizabeth Jozwiak, professor of history at UW-Whitewater-Rock County campus.
  • Harvey Kaye, professor of Democracy and Social Justice at UW-Green Bay.
  • Jon Shelton, professor of Democracy and Social Justice at UW-Green Bay.
  • Candice Owley, chair of this year’s event and retired president of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
Click here to view:
2) Wreath-laying at brief Tragedy event
Candice Owley opens abbreviated 2020 Bay View Tragedy commemoration.

The annual commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy typically attracts crowds of about 300, but this year – due to the virus restrictions – the Society held a brief wreath-laying program. Ten persons attended, all maintaining social distancing. View the brief ceremonies by clicking below:



Lifetime achievement award

WLHS Board Member Jon Shelton (left) presents Award to St. Sen Dave Hansen.

Each year, the Society honors an individual for “Lifetime Achievements for the Wisconsin Labor Movement.”  Special emphasis is placed upon providing the honor to persons who have a rank-and-file background and who have provided many years of voluntary leadership.  Presentation of the award is normally made at the annual conference, but the 2020 presentation was made in a small ceremony and streamed online.

The 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award was given to State Senator Dave Hansen, of Green Bay, for his leadership in the Legislature in supporting causes of workers and unions.

Read more about Dave Hansen’s award.

View 27-minute video of event.