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Business v. Labor and the Role of Government

Ohio Content Standards: Grade 9, Economics 2; Grade
10, History 1; Grade 12, Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities 7

Duration of Lesson: Two class periods

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will analyze editorial cartoons that will enable
    them to explain the abuses of big business and determine the effects of
    their abuses.
  • Students will identify the role of labor unions in
    American society.
  • Students will be able to understand the role of government
    in the free enterprise system.

Summary: This lesson allows students to explore the
relationship between big business, organized labor and government through
editorial cartoon analysis and research.


Pre-Assessment: The instructor will facilitate a
discussion on modern day market economies and the global corporations that
thrive within this economy (Wal-Mart, Microsoft, McDonald's etc.). To
encourage such discussion teachers can use supplemental materials such as
newspaper articles and documentaries.

Instructional Steps:

Day 1

  1. Provide each
    student with a copy of editorial cartoons 1 and 2 (Next and The King of the
  2. As a class
    discuss the content of the cartoons. Ask students to identify the businesses
    symbolized in the cartoons and discuss the message of the cartoonist.
  3. Put students
    into small groups and have them brainstorm a list of other big business that
    may have been targets of cartoonists.
  4. Assign each
    small group an industry leader to research (below is a list of suggested
    • Cornelius
      Vanderbilt (railroad)
    • Jay Gould (railroad)
    • Andrew Carnegie (steel)
    • John D. Rockefeller (oil)
    • J.P. Morgan (finance)
    • Henry Ford (automobiles)
    • John Jacob Astor (real estate)
    • Jay Cooke (railroads)
    • James Buchanan Duke (tobacco)
  5. Take groups to a computer lab
    or the media center to research the assigned individual and that individual's

Day 2

  1. Groups meet
    in class to prepare a summary of their research.
  2. Each group
    shares its findings with the class.
  3. As a class,
    discuss the effects big business had on the average citizen. Remind students
    of the negative political cartoons they viewed on day 1. Some discussion
    questions might include:
    • Why did people
      react negatively to big business?
    • Who was
      adversely affected by big business and in what way?
    • What did
      people do in response to the adverse effects of big business?
    • What organized
      group became the biggest opponent to big business?
  4. After
    students are able to recognize the struggle between big business and organized
    labor, ask students how disputes between these two groups might be settled.
    Allow them to brainstorm a response in their small groups.
  5. Discuss their
    responses to determine if students were able to determine the role of
    government in solving disputes.
  6. Provide small
    groups with cartoons 3 and 4 and ask them to determine what the message of the
    cartoon is and how the cartoons portray the government's role in solving

Post-Assessment: Students research government policy
passed in response to big business and labor disputes. In a writing
assignment, they should describe at least three policies and discuss the
effectiveness of the policy/legislation.

Extension Activities:

  • Have student groups research and write a summary on the
    rise of labor unions.
  • Have students research and define the terms "robber
    barons" and "captains of industry" and write an essay explaining the term
    they believe is appropriate to use in labeling the individuals discuss in
    this lesson.

"The King of the Combinations"

"Come, Brothers, You Have Grown So Big You Cannot Afford to Quarrel"


"Between Two of a Kind: The Consumer Suffers When These Two Trusts Fall Out"