Critics insisted it was a complete waste of time and political kowtowing to unions, but advocates of a bill requiring Connecticut public schools to teach the history of America’s labor movement convinced Senate lawmakers to approve the legislation on a bipartisan 25-10 vote Wednesday.
The bill now heads for the House where it faces an uncertain fate in these remaining weeks of the 2014 General Assembly session.
The nearly 90-minute Senate debate included lawmakers remembering how their fathers and grandfathers took part in union organizing, as well as odes to old-time labor leaders like Eugene Debs. Supporters insisted many kids today don’t realize the critical role the labor movement played in enacting protections for workers like the five-day work week and outlawing child labor.
“Is it the most important thing we will do today?” asked Sen. Catherine Osten, D-Baltic. “No, but it is a piece of the puzzle.” She called the bill “a very minor piece of legislation” that will help remind students about “What it was like to work for the rights and safety of working families.”
Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, pointed out the bill also requires the state Department of Education also include the history of free-market capitalism in the public school curriculum. He said the achievements of organized labor often aren’t given enough emphasis in school history lessons.
“America today is largely a product of the labor movement,” said the Senate’s top Democratic leader, Donald Williams Jr. of Brooklyn. “Because of the labor movement, we have protections for life, liberty and, yes, the pursuit of happiness.”
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney of Fairfield was less than impressed.
“You have got to be kidding me,” he told his colleagues. “This is a political discussion – this isn’t about helping our kids.”
McKinney, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, insisted the bill wasn’t about improving eduction in Connecticut. “We have so many problems and we spend hours talking about something that isn’t going to solve any of those problems.”