The Mission

The Rise of the Labor Movement in San Francisco's Mission District

This lesson relates to the following topic from the California History-Social Sciences Curriculum for Grade Eight:

"The Rise of Industrial America: 1877 - 1914"

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Students will learn about the growth and origins of the labor movement, from both a historical and an experiential perspective.

Time Required

1 class period - screening and discussing the video
1 class period - performing the simulation.


    Labor union - A labor organization created to advance its members' interests regarding wages and working conditions.

    Assembly line - An arrangement of machines and workers so that work passes from operation to operation in a direct line until the product is assembled.

    Sweatshop - A manufacturing establishment employing workers under unfair and unsanitary conditions.

Materials Needed

A number of pieces of 8 1/2" x 11" paper for the "assembly line" simulation.
A teacher-produced model of a simple drawing of a human figure.


1. Ask students about their own experience with labor unions. What do they know about unions? What is their purpose? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

2. Before playing the video segment, instruct students to note details about life in the highly unionized Mission District at the turn of the century. Play the video segment (approx. 5 mins.), beginning at the following point in the narration: In those days, the Mission was like a small town... and ending with... It was Father Yorke who engineered the end of the strike... and the survival of the Teamsters Union... Use the video log to locate the segment.

4. After screening the video segment, have students immediately write their responses to the following questions:

  • If you were Irish-born and lived in the Mission District during this time, what would your life be like?
  • What would your life be like if you were Chinese?
  • What would your life be like if your father belonged to the Teamsters Union in 1901?

5. Have students read their responses and discuss them as a class. Then, instruct them to come to the next class prepared to assume the role of workers in an early twentieth century sweatshop.

6. Before students arrive for the next class, arrange the desks so they are very close together, forming a series of assembly lines.

7. Once students arrive, direct them to their seats.Their task is to mass-produce a picture of a person. Have each student "worker" specialize in a particular part of the body. They are to pass the illustration from "worker" to "worker" until the drawing is completed. In your role as boss, urge the students to speed up, stop dawdling, etc.

8. Stop the simulation. How did students feel while they were on the assembly line? How would it feel, day after day, if their livelihood depended on such jobs? Can they see why people needed to form unions to improve their working conditions?

Extension Activities

Keep a first-person diary of your imaginary experiences in an early twentieth century sweat shop and share them locally with other classes by using KQED Learning Link e-mail or internationally by using Newsgroups found on KQED Learning Link.

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Take me to The Mission home page

Take me to the Neighborhoods Menu page

PBS Online