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How to
Use the Activities


Inquiry Question

Historical Context




Table of

Putting It All Together

Although the silk industry in Paterson had its own special characteristics, the factors that contributed to its rise and fall can be found in cities and towns all over the United States. The following activities will help students understand how industries and the communities that depend on them change over time.

Activity 1: Working and Workers
Remind students that the issue that triggered the silk strike of 1913 was a change in worker responsibilities. The new looms Harry Doherty installed made it possible for one worker to tend four looms at a time. For the mill owners the new equipment represented progress--expanding production, reducing costs, and benefiting everyone. For the workers, the new looms and the change in responsibilities represented a stretch out--a way to get more work without paying more money. They did not think that they would benefit from any increases in productivity, and they were sure that the changes would inevitably lead to increased unemployment and decreased wages.

Ask students to discuss as a class the introduction of modern machinery and the question of who should benefit from it. Why do they think a question of work assignments, rather than disputes about issues like wages or working conditions, led to the strike? Who do the students think should make decisions about the introduction of new technologies? Do they think the effects on workers and their lives should be taken into account? Do they think the workers should play a role in decision-making? The new machinery represented a substantial capital investment for the owners. How much of the increase in productivity could be considered a return on that investment? Ask them to defend their answers.

Activity 2: Labor Unions and Strikes
The silk strike in Paterson occurred during a period when there were major strikes in many parts of the United States. Divide students into groups and have each group research the story of one major union in America--the Knights of Labor, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), American Federation of Labor (AFL), Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and United Mine Workers of America (UMW). American history textbooks will provide some of the needed data; library references will provide more of the story. Who did each union represent? Ask the groups to identify major strikes in which each union was involved, which workers participated in the strike, what the issues were, and how the strike ended. Have each group of students present the information they found to the class. Hold a general class discussion of what the unions accomplished in these strikes and how our lives might be different today if organized labor had not existed.

Local union members or representatives might be willing to speak to the class. If so, have the students prepare a list of questions to ask the speaker about how unions operate today. Ask students to compare the current concerns of unions with the issues important to the silk workers at Paterson.

Activity 3: Local Industry
Working in groups, have students research their community to determine what industries were important in its history. Remind them that industries do not necessarily have to be in factories. Even small towns had flour mills, saw mills, cotton gins, or lime kilns. For the late 19th and early 20th centuries, published directories and telephone books, often available at local public libraries, list and frequently have advertisements for local businesses. Between 1880 and about 1910, many towns published books celebrating their history and giving brief biographies of leading businessmen; these, too, are often available at local libraries or historical societies. Have each group choose a different year and determine what seem to have been the most important industries in their community in that selected year. Then have the groups find comparable data for two or three additional years between the first year and the present. As a class, discuss the findings of each group and try to determine why certain industries disappeared, while others remained successful. Finally, ask groups to find out whether any buildings remain that were associated with early industries. If so, how are they being used today? If industries that were once important in the community have closed, what effect has that had on the community?



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