What's The Big New Republican Idea? Bring Back Child Labor

What's The Big New Republican Idea? Bring Back Child Labor

A young boy working in a 19th-century industrial furnace

I have to concede one point: Today's far-right Republican party does not discriminate against women. In fact, the GOP is giving its female political buffoons a higher profile than its male bozos.

Consider Sarah Huckabee Sanders, governor of Arkansas, who became a star in the new Republican crusade to bring back child labor abuse. Pushed by their corporate backers, GOP governors and lawmakers exclaim that the answer to America's so-called "labor shortage" is not to make jobs more attractive, but to fill them with cheap, compliant children.

Huckabee Sanders rushed to the aid of these corporate powers, eliminating a bothersome Arkansas law that required Tyson, Walmart and other big employers to get a special state permit to put any child under 16 to work. "The meddling hand of big government creeping down from Washington, D.C.," she bellowed, "will be stopped cold... We will get the overregulating, micromanaging, bureaucratic tyrants off your backs."

So, she is using the meddling hand of big state government to creep into the lives of vulnerable children. She is not alone. Ohio's Republican-controlled state government is moving to extend the number of hours bosses can make children work; Iowa wants to let 14-year-olds work in industrial freezers and laundries; and Republicans in Congress have shrunk the number of investigators and lawyers policing child labor abuse, so abusive corporate managers know there is little chance they'll be caught.

Most damning, these corporate politicians value children so little that they've set the maximum fine for violating the workplace safety of minors at $15,138 per child. For multimillion-dollar conglomerates, that devaluation makes it much cheaper to endanger children than protect them.

America should not even be talking about child safety rules in dangerous workplaces — it's shameful to have any children working there.

One Idea For Actually Stopping Child Labor Abuse

With new outrages erupting every day, I find some comfort in knowing that We the People have at least eliminated certain particularly ugly plutocratic abuses. Child labor, for example — outlawed in 1938, right?

Well, outlawed, yes; stopped, no. Recent reports reveal that thousands of children, ages 12 to 17, are toiling illegally at dangerous jobs, in manufacturing, construction, food processing, etc. To be clear, there's nothing wrong with teenagers working — they help their families, gain experience or just earn a few bucks. Indeed, I worked part-time throughout my high school and college years, and while I did gripe some, overall, it was positive.

So, this is not about children working — it's about corporate child abuse, plain and simple. For example, last year Packers Sanitation Services was caught "employing oppressive child labor" in meatpacking plants to clean saws, head splitters and other butchering machines. In a typical incident, one 13-year-old was badly burned by the caustic cleaning chemicals they used during long night shifts — which ran from 11 p.m. to at least 5 a.m.!

Once caught, top executives of Packers Sanitation tried to sanitize their reputation by proclaiming they have "zero tolerance for any violation" of child labor laws. Oh? Ask that 13-year-old. These executives would be comical, except they're completely disgusting and morally repugnant. Yet our worker protection laws are so weak that Packers' multiple violations, involving 102 children in this one case, resulted in a fine of... $1.5 million.

That's not even peanuts for this nationwide giant, which is owned by Blackstone, the trillion-dollar Wall Street hucksters run by well-manicured executives who pretend they know nothing about the children they endanger for profit.

How about we make a few of the teenage children and grandchildren of the Blackstone profiteers work some midnight shifts cleaning meat-cutting machinery? I'm guessing they would stop the abuse overnight.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

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