The Fight for Labor Rights


Explore the ongoing fight for workers’ rights in the United States with these videos and lesson plans. Learn about the rise and fall of labor unions, the origin of the 40-hour work week, the history of the farm labor movement, and more! Encourage your students to create community projects to raise awareness about labor rights and other social movements, including the civil rights movement, feminist movement, and environmentalist movement.

  • Labor Day Lesson Plan

    This PBS NewsHour Extra Labor Day lesson plan provides information on the contemporary role of the unions and a simulation about the process of negotiations.

    Grades: 7-12
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Disaster | The Jewish Americans

    This video segment from the documentary The Jewish Americans outlines the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was owned by Max Blank and Isaac Harris, ambitious Russian Jewish immigrants. Their company employed Jewish immigrants who worked in sweatshop conditions.  On March 25, 1911, a fire started on the eighth floor.  The exits were locked, and fire truck ladders only reached to the sixth floor, so there was no escape for the workers trapped inside the burning building. One hundred forty-six workers were killed.  Although Blank and Harris were tried for manslaughter, they were acquitted.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Supreme Court | Worker's Rights

    In the case of Lochner v. New York, Justice Stephen Fields established the legal theory of “liberty of contract.” According to this theory, government should not and cannot interfere with business contracts, including agreements about wages made between employers and employees. This video, from the series The Supreme Court, gives background on the case and shows how the idea of liberty of contract was derived from the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Organizing the Farm Worker Movement

    Explore the early days of the United Farmworkers under the guidance of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. See the condidtions that led to the oranization of a farm labor union and the initial challenges to its work: the strike in Delano and the march to Sacramento. Contrast the leadership styles of its leaders and examine the movement's use of symbols. 

    Grades: 7-12
  • Cesar Chavez | Labor Leader and Civil Rights Activist

    Migrant farm workers in the United States were exploited routinely by the agricultural industry, which forced them to work in unsafe conditions for little pay. They had no political representation or advocates until Cesar Chavez established the United Farm Workers, the first successful union for farm laborers. Students will watch a short video and examine two primary sources in order to understand how Chavez was able to successfully organize a movement among some of America’s poorest and most oppressed workers.

    Grades: 3-7, 13+
  • hd video

    Intersectionality and the Making of a Movement | Dolores

    These three film segments illustrate how the major social movements of the 1960s and 1970s—including civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, Chicano Power, and farmworkers—were interrelated and strengthened one another. The fatal pesticide exposure of farmworkers, including cancer clusters and birth defects caused by DDT, sparked the grape boycott and the concept of environmental justice. Abortion rights as a part of the feminist movement is discussed as an issue that Dolores Huerta had difficulty accepting, though her perspective changed over time under the influence of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Art + Activism with Sanaz Mazinani | KQED Art School

    Sanaz Mazinani is an artist with a background in political activism who uses art to inspire dialogue about perceptions of cultural identity. In the latest episode of Art School, she describes her current art practice. Using online media focusing on world news and pop culture as her source material, she creates symmetrical photo collages and videos that abstract familiar images and invite viewers to reconsider visual culture and its meaning and influence on public opinion and social justice.

    In the second video Mazinani expands on the intention of traditional of Islamic ornamentation. Check out the entire collection of KQED Art School videos!

    Grades: 6-12
  • Painting A Future for Wildlife with Jane Kim and Ink Dwell | KQED Art School

    Take a trip to the California Academy of Sciences with Jane Kim as she draws inspiration from their collection and talks about an early obsession with teddy bears that led her to a life of using art to give the natural world a stronger voice. She also explains how research and location play an important role in her projects and help encourage environmental stewardship.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Social Practice Art: Engaging Community Through Art | KQED Arts

    Social practice art can look like just about anything: journalism, community organizing, even a shop. The goal is to engage the audience and help people think about social issues in new ways. “For me,” says social-practice artist and professor Stephanie Syjuco, “the best social practice projects actually try to attract people to join a conversation.”

    Two artists, Chris Treggiari and Chris Johnson, recently went into the streets of Oakland to record conversations and make art.

    Grades: 6-12