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The effort to include Virginia's labor history into education standards

Former Virginia Governor Bill Tuck
Former Virginia Governor Bill Tuck

This week, members of the Virginia Board of Education are expected to take up controversial new history standards. Union leaders are hoping that labor history will be part of the curriculum.

After World War II, workers at the Virginia Electric and Power Company threatened a strike. So then-Governor Bill Tuck responded by conscripting all the employees into the state militia and then threatened them with a court martial them if they failed to show up for work. Well, that averted the strike, and then the governor asked a joint session of the General Assembly for a new law to undermine the power of unions.

Here’s how Governor Tuck described the proposal in 1947.

"The right to work bill is designed to preserve the liberty of the individual worker," Tuck said. "It would ensure that his right to earn a livelihood for himself and his family would not be dependent upon the whims of an arbitrary, unscrupulous or despotic union leadership."

Now, labor leaders want to make sure Virginia labor history is part of the history standards currently under consideration by the Virginia Board of Education. Brian Peyton of the Teamsters is one of the many union leaders who held a press conference this week to demand that Virginia labor history be taught in Virginia classrooms.

"Labor history is our history," Peyton said. "Hard working men and women of this country built this country, keep this country running."

He says the standards now under consideration get a failing grade because they whitewash an important part of history. Supporters of the standards say the proposed new curriculum is age-appropriate and objective while also being factual.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.