“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” The meaning of this famous quote by George Santayana is crucial to understanding where and why our society is moving closer towards Oligarchy and further away from Democracy. Even a watered-down democracy like the representative fashion that exists here in the U.S. has afforded us progressive reforms in the area of labor such as: work safety laws, minimum wage laws, equal pay laws, the 40 hour work week, and anti-discrimination laws, to mention but a few. Among the most important labor laws were the Child Labor Laws. In 1904, activism for child protections in the workplace were spearheaded by the National Child Labor Committee. The proposed laws were coupled with compulsory education laws designed to keep kids out of the labor market and in school acquiring an education. In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor. It seemed to me that these laws were revered by everyone in the U.S. because, besides setting the country apart from other countries where child labor is prominent, they protected the right of children to spend their time and energy pursuing an education that would benefit them and the country greatly in the long-term. All of this information is in the historical record and borrowed to shed light on the despicable attack on child labor laws by conservatives.
According to the Huffington Post article linked above, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, endorses the loosening of restrictions in the Child Labor Laws because he believes it is positive for minors to work while they attend school. Furthermore, LePage believes that these very same minors who are now working more hours, even on school nights, should be getting paid less than the minimum wage. Of course this is all nonsense and what LePage is proposing is nothing more than an even cheaper labor pool for the big companies like Walmart and the like (who are registering record profits). If LePage truly believed that child labor was a good experience for minors, then he would propose paying MORE than the minimum-wage in order to entice students from middle-class and wealthy families to the work-force while in school. While I believe all students of a reasonable age should have the opportunity to gain real-world experience, most minors work due to financial need and therefore the potential for their abuse by employers is high. The dropout rate among students that work is markedly higher than their counterparts that can afford not to. Studies consistently show that even among the students that can pull it off successfully (like I did) their grades (like mine) are significantly lower than their non-working counterparts.
So now we stand together as a country at the precipice of disaster. Much like the miscalculation on the effects of climate change (the rate of change/damage is occurring faster than originally calculated) so the rate of decline for the U.S. is occurring at an exponential rate rather than in linear fashion. Fortunately, the Federal Government Child Labor Laws have kept us from jumping off the cliff to our eminent demise thus far but the sentiment to loosen the work restrictions for minors is gaining momentum on the right through the efforts of lunatic conservative extremist groups, no doubt financed by the Walmart’s and Koch Brothers and their ideological kin. Below is a photograph taken by Lewis W. Hine of a child worker from his photo-essay Child Labor in America 1908-1912. I encourage you to take a look at these photos and let me know if this is the U.S. that we want to go back to.