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Lesson Plan

Examine Labor Practices in the Garment Industry

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OVERVIEW

This lesson plan is designed to be used in conjunction with the film Made in L.A., a film that follows the struggle of three Latina immigrants working for fair labor conditions in Los Angeles's garment factories. Note: This film has bilingual subtitles throughout and is fully accessible to English and Spanish speakers. This lesson compares current conditions in the garment industry with those at the turn of the 20th century.

POV documentaries can be recorded off-the-air and used for educational purposes for up to one year from the initial broadcast. In addition, POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year — FOR FREE! Please visit our Film Library to find other films suitable for classroom use or to make this film a part of your school's permanent collection.

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OBJECTIVES

By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Work in cooperative learning groups to study various topics related to fair labor practices in the garment industry, both in historic and modern times.
  • Take a quiz to measure their knowledge about the topics studied.

GRADE LEVEL: 6-12

SUBJECT AREAS: Current Events, U.S. History, Civics, Economics, Geography

 

MATERIALS

  • Equipment for showing online video clips or DVDs/VHS tapes to class (varies by school)
  • Computers with access to the Internet
  • Handout: Garment Industry Labor Quiz (PDF file)

ESTIMATED TIME NEEDED: One 50-minute class

 

SUGGESTED VIDEO CLIPS

Clip 1: "María" (Length: 02:05)
Mexican immigrant María talks about how she became a garment worker and about the conditions that she worked under.

For those watching on DVD: The clip begins just after the films title at 02:05 with the shot of the exterior of María's home. It ends at 06:20 with a close-up of a spinning sewing machine wheel.

Clip 2: "Pyramid of Power" (Length: 01:02)
Garment worker and organizer Lupe builds a "Pyramid of Power" to illustrate how workers can become powerful by uniting together. Students should discuss what kind of power factory workers have when they organize themselves.

DVD: The clip begins at 55:45 with Lupe saying, "I built a pyramid of power ..." It ends at 56:47 with "... really, we are very powerful."

Clip 3: "Who Is Responsible for Sweatshop Conditions?" (Length: 01:19)
Garment workers announce a lawsuit against clothing retailer Forever 21 demanding unpaid minimum wages. A lawyer for the workers argue that the retailer systematically demanded and perpetuated sweatshop conditions.

DVD: The clip begins at 20:51 with "Latino workers announce a lawsuit against a garment company..." It ends at 22:10 with "...have an incredible impact on the industry as a whole."

Clip 4: "Modern Sweatshop" (Length: 03:02)
Workers at the Garment Workers Center, who make clothes for the retailer Forever 21, talk in detail about their pay, which is below minimum wage, and the poor working conditions of their factories.

DVD: The clip begins at 15:38 with "So we want to hear your problems." It ends at 18:40 with "So we all decided to start the lawsuit against Forever 21."

Clip 5: "Lupe Visits Ellis Island" (Length: 01:08)
In this fifth clip, garment worker and organizer Lupe visits the Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island and learns more about the history of immigration and sweatshops in the United States.

DVD: The clip begins at 38:50 with a shot of the Statue of Liberty. It ends at 39:58 with a close-up shot of a photo from the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration.

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BACKGROUND

In 2001, garment workers from different factories in Los Angeles joined forces with the Garment Worker Center to file wage claims against retailer Forever 21, who subcontracted with manufacturers to produce inventory for its retail shops. Forever 21 said it wasn't responsible for the workers' complaints because the workers were employees of the subcontractors, and not of Forever 21. Through unity and persistence, the workers were able to eventually negotiate a labor settlement with Forever 21 that improved labor conditions.

Such struggles for better working conditions are not new in the United States. The term "sweatshop" was coined in the late 1800s to describe factories with poor working conditions, low wages, long hours and the supervisor's arbitrary power over the workers. With the help of legislation and union organizing, working conditions in the garment industry have gradually improved. Sweatshop conditions continue to exist in many U.S. factories, however, indicating that there is still progress to be made.

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ACTIVITY

Explore past and present labor issues in the garment industry by conducting the following jigsaw activity:

  1. Divide the class into "Home" groups of five students each. Explain that each group is going to be exploring past and current struggles for fair working conditions in the garment industry. Each member of each Home group will become an "Expert" on a specific topic and will then be responsible for teaching the members of his or her Home group about that topic. At the end of the activity, students will take a quiz on ALL of the topics, so it is important for each Expert to do a good job of both learning the material and teaching the members of his or her Home group.

  2. Next, have a representative from each Home group form temporary Expert groups composed of others assigned to the same topic. Expert groups should study the subjects below, discuss the main points and guiding questions, then practice how they will teach their Home group about their assigned topic.

    Expert Group 1
    Topic: What Is a Sweatshop?
    Resource: Lower East Side Tenement Museum: Levine Apartment

    Guiding Questions: Who were the Levines and why did they open a garment shop in their home? What are the characteristics commonly attributed to sweatshops? Why would the Levines' shop likely have qualified as a sweatshop? What ultimately spelled the end of apartment-based garment factories in New York at the end of the 18th century?

    Expert Group 2
    Topic: Worker Strikes Before 1911
    Resources:
    Cornell University Online Exhibit: The Triangle Factory Fire
    Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site

    See the section "Sweatshops and Strikes Before 1911." Guiding Questions: What type of worker is often willing to work in sweatshop labor conditions? What important gains did "The Uprising" achieve?

    Expert Group 3
    Topic: Triangle Factory Fire
    Resource: Cornell University Online Exhibit: The Triangle Factory Fire

    See the sections "Fire!" "Mourning and Protest" and "Investigation, Trial, and Reform." Guiding Questions: What factors led to the tragic deaths in the Triangle Factory Fire? What happened as a result of this fire?

    Expert Group 4
    Topic: The Garment Industry in Modern Times
    Resources:
    "María" and "Pyramid of Power" video clips from Made in L.A.
    "The Fight Against Forever 21: Low-Wage Immigrant Worker Organizing for Fairness and Dignity" (PDF File, page 11)

    Guiding Questions: What have modern working conditions been like in many of Los Angeles's garment factories? Why do people like María tolerate such conditions? What kind of power do factory workers have when they organize themselves?

    Expert Group 5
    Topic: Systemic Issues Affecting Worker Conditions
    Resources: Filmmakers Interview
    "Who Is Responsible?" and "Modern Sweatshop" video clips

    Guiding Questions: Why didn't the retailer Forever 21 believe that they were responsible for the workers' complaints about unfair working conditions? How can low price points set by retailers affect the wages of those who manufacture the product?

  3. Give students about 20 minutes to work within their Expert groups. Then, have each Expert return to his or her Home group and teach the members about the topic. Encourage group members to ask questions for clarification.

  4. At the end of the activity, use the quiz in the "Assessment Suggestions" section (or create one of your own) to find out what students have learned.

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ASSESSMENT

Students can be assessed on:

  • Their participation in the Home and Expert groups,
  • Their scores on the provided quiz for this activity.
  • Answer Key:
    1) B  2) A  3) D  4) C  5) D  6) C  7) C  8) A  9) B  10) C

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EXTENSIONS & ADAPTATIONS

  • Watch the film, Made in L.A. in its entirety. Then explore one or more of the following topics in an open classroom discussion:
    • How did Lupe, María, and Maura change over the course of the Forever 21 campaign? How did these changes impact their personal lives and outlooks for the future?
    • Create a chart that shows the strategies and outcomes of the Garment Worker Center's Forever 21 campaign. What were the risks of the campaign? Why do students think the workers would speak out despite these risks? Why was the campaign ultimately successful? The film synopsis on the POV website summarizes this campaign, as do the Garment Worker Center's archived documents on the Forever 21 Campaign.
    • Consider the economic struggles and personal sacrifices of Lupe, María, and Maura as they work to earn a living for themselves and/or their families. Please see the Waging a Living Lesson Plan for more ideas.
  • Read what a select group of activists, writers and policymakers have to say about Made in L.A. What strategies did each of these activists use to bring about positive social change? How do their experiences and thinking compare with those of Lupe, María, and Maura? What can students learn from these people to help them address issues in your community? Brainstorm with students some issues they see in your community and create a classroom action plan based on their research and comments.
  • Increase students' knowledge of worker movements in the United States by having them listen to POV's Waging a Living podcast featuring Amy Goodman's conversation with historian Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States. Download the podcast. A transcript of the conversation is also available. Ask students to research workers' movements in foreign countries and compare/contrast their findings with Howard Zinn's comments.
  • Check out other POV films that address immigration and/or labor themes like those raised in Made in L.A: Maquilapolis, Waging a Living, Life and Debt, Al Otro Lado, Farmingville, Discovering Dominga, Soldados: Chicanos in Viêt Nam and The Sixth Section.
  • Have students go through their clothing at home and make a list of the countries where their clothes were produced. Find these countries on a world map. Discuss the pros and cons of producing clothing in these different countries for consumers, manufacturers and workers. How do consumer choices influence how companies do business? Visit Co-Op America's Responsible Shopper website to see reports on how well popular clothing companies address the rights of workers in their supply chains.
  • Illustrate the concept of "piecework" for students by taking an old article of clothing, such as a T-shirt or a simple skirt, and cutting along its seams to separate it into its individual pieces. Or take a sewing pattern and lay out each part for students to see. Describe (or have someone experienced in sewing come in to explain) briefly how clothing is constructed. Tell students that workers in garment factories are sometimes paid a piecework rate for each piece of clothing produce, or for each part of a garment that they complete in an assembly line. Explain that unscrupulous factory managers would try to minimize labor costs by switching fast workers to an hourly rate and paying slower workers by the piece.

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RESOURCES

The Jigsaw Classroom: A Cooperative Learning Technique
This resource provides tips on successfully implementing a jigsaw activity and includes articles and books related to the technique.

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STANDARDS

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/.

Behavioral Studies
Standard 4: Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.

Civics
Standard 3: Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good.

Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.

Standard 25: Understands issues regarding personal, political, and economic rights.

Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.

Economics
Standard 2: Understands characteristics of different economic systems, economic institutions, and economic incentives.

Standard 3: Understands the concept of prices and the interaction of supply and demand in a market economy.

Standard 5: Understands unemployment, income, and income distribution in a market economy.

Geography
Standard 11: Understands the patterns and networks of interdependence on Earth's surface.

Language Arts
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

U.S. History
Standard 17: Understands massive immigration after 1870 and how new social patterns, conflicts, and ideas of national unity developed amid growing cultural diversity.

Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in broadcast journalism, secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers), and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

BACKGROUND SOURCES

Cornell University Online Exhibit: The Triangle Factory Fire

Garment Worker Center: Forever 21 Campaign (PDF)

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Made in L.A. is an intimate portrait of an all-American experience: the struggle of recent immigrants to get a foothold, to assert their voices, to say, 'I exist. And I have rights.'”

— Almudena Carracedo, Filmmaker

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