The Right to Work

From Women's Empowerment collection, lesson plan 3 of 8

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Civics, Government, Global Studies, Sociology, Economics, World History

Purpose of the lesson: In this lesson, students investigate the concept of unemployment and learn how it is currently reported in the U.S. Students are presented with the fact that the right to work is a universal human right according to the United Nations; they can then apply this knowledge to better understand working conditions for indigenous women in Bolivia. After listening to various voices involved in the conversation, including the Bolivian president, union organizers, political advocates and the workers themselves, students research a political organization and create a media campaign.


Students will:

  • Understand the concepts of unemployment and unemployment rates
  • Examine and discuss the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how it relates to employment issues and women workers’ rights
  • Investigate the voices involved in the women workers’ rights movement in Bolivia
  • Create media publicity materials and prepare a class presentation


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing; analytical reading and viewing; note taking; interpreting information and drawing conclusions; critical thinking; identifying cause and effect; identifying relationships and patterns; creating various forms of media; oral presentation


  • Waiting for the Revolution “Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers” Film Module (can be streamed or ordered on DVD)
  • Computers with Internet access and/or with DVD capability
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Whiteboard/markers, or chalkboard/chalk
  • Waiting for the Revolution Discussion Guide
  • Teacher Handout A: Organizing Strategies
  • Teacher Handout B: Assignment Rubric
  • Student Handout A: “Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers” Note Taking Guide
  • Student Handout B: Waiting for the Revolution Quotes


Use Teacher Handout B: Assignment Rubric, Lesson Plan 2 to assess group’s media campaigns. Students should receive the rubric to guide their work.

National Teaching Standards Addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards in the Educator Guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel)

Center for Civic Education

National Council for the Social Studies

National Center for History in the Schools

National Geographic

National Council for Teachers of English/International Reading Association

North American Association for Environmental Education

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

Previewing Activity

  1. Introducing Unemployment: Have students copy and respond to this quick True or False survey:

    • The unemployment rate is currently higher than it was during the Great Depression
    • According to the United Nations, all people have the right to work
    • I know someone who is a member of a union
    • I know someone who is currently unemployed

    Call on students to share out responses and discuss opinions, activating their prior knowledge about unemployment and worker’s rights.

  2. The Role of Unions: Have students read the “What Is” and “History” pages on the website of UNITE HERE!, a union representing a large and diverse membership of mostly women workers in various manufacturing and service jobs. Start a discussion using the following questions as a guide:

    • What kinds of occupations does UNITE HERE! organize workers for? Why would these workers need union protection?
    • What are the benefits of making traditionally low-wage jobs more sustainable for the workers? For the employers? For society?
    • What demands has UNITE HERE! made on employers? What strategies has the union used to apply pressure? (Post and refer to Teacher Handout A: Organizing Strategies.)
    • What gains has it achieved?
    • Overall, what has made this union so successful?
    • How can unions have a positive impact on unemployment?
  3. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Ask students to break into partners and then have them read the Introduction, Preamble and Articles 22-26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 . Direct pairs to list the rights in a short version and/or in their own words from the Articles they read (e.g. Right to work; Right to equal pay; Right to education). Have them compare notes with other student pairs and then add to their list or adjust their wording. Discuss the following questions with the class:

    • Which rights are most important to you?
    • Which rights can governments most directly address and impact?
    • How might a government ensure these rights?
  4. Background Information on Bolivia and Waiting for the Revolution: Briefly introduce the film Waiting for the Revolution. Note how the film module will cover PLANE, a women workers’ rights program in Bolivia that hoped to benefit from the election of the first indigenous president. Have students read Waiting for the Revolution Discussion Guide pages 2-5 particularly about PLANE and Evo Morales.

    Viewing the Film

  5. Viewing the Film Module: Instruct students to take notes on Student Handout A: “Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers” Note Taking Guide as they view the “Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers” Film Module. They should focus on recording their perspectives on how to secure work for the unemployed from the various subjects they will meet in the film: PLANE workers, PLANE supervisor Jiovana Navia, union leader Esther Encinas and presidential candidate Evo Morales. What ideas and approaches do they offer?

    Reflecting on the Film

  6. Review and Discuss: Debrief the module and notes by discussing them together as a class. Have students review the Student Handout B: Waiting for the Revolution Quotes before the discussion. Use the following guide questions:

    • What is the situation like for indigenous women workers in Bolivia?
    • What are the strategies of PLANE for fighting poverty? (post and refer to Teacher Handout A: Organizing Strategies)
    • What difficulties do the organizers of PLANE face?
    • What difficulties does the indigenous population (including the coca farmers) face?
    • Who are their allies? How do these allies support their struggle?
  7. Another Perspective: Have students read “Spotlight Interview with Rosa Calle,” an interview with the Bolivian trade union activist

    • What issues are Calle and COMUANDE currently working to address?
    • What are Calle’s and COMUANDE’s strategies for fighting for indigenous women workers’ rights?
    • How is COMUANDE different from PLANE?
    • What is her critique of PLANE? How would Jiovana, Ester and Evo respond to her critique?
  8. Assignment: Media Campaign: In small groups, have students research an organization (e.g. an NGO or union) that advocates for youth access to work, worker’s rights issues or women workers. Have them compile media that the group uses to promote their cause: platform, logos, slogans, posters, banners, t-shirt designs, buttons, videos, music and so on. Then, ask them to create a web page displaying these images and materials.

    Instruct groups to evaluate the organization’s media for clarity of message, interest, visual appeal and effectiveness. Finally, have students develop a new media campaign for the organization, designing new visuals and revising the language to affect a greater impact on the public. Have the groups create a second web page to post their “makeover” of the organization’s media image. Students could also contact the organization directly to share the link for their media campaign and get feedback.

Students can:

  1. Research the current state of PLANE and the indigenous and women worker’s rights movement in Bolivia.

  2. Research the rights of women workers in the U.S. Find out about current laws regarding maternity leave, child care, women’s health and other related issues.

  3. Locate and interview a representative from a local union. Find out what their current “hot-button” issues are and the strategies they are using to address these issues.

  4. Relate this issue of the “right to work” to the Millennium Development Goals.

  5. Have students view and read’s “Guide to the Unemployment Rate” poster from January 2009. Discuss information that stands out, as well as any other reflections on the poster. Research monthly-updated unemployment statistics on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

  6. Research labor/work/unemployment conditions locally in the US (example groups include immigrants, farm workers, day laborers, domestic laborers, and so on). As an alternative, students could also research the employment and working conditions of different Native American groups. Find out what kinds of labor organizing is happening and any organizations that may already exist to advocate for these workers.

  7. Analyze the skills needed to be an effective advocate. Find an example of a woman who advocated effectively for her cause in history and explore what made her voice powerful. Read profiles of women who have made contributions to labor movements.

  • Film module:
    Waiting for the Revolution: Bolivia’s Indigenous Workers
Download lesson materials