Posted by mouthyb | Posted in civil rights , politics , teaching | Posted on 2:01 PM
So I just covered this in the history/theory course I'm teaching: child labor laws, which are a product of the late 19th and early 20th century Child-Saver movement, are the only thing standing between children and conditions like this.
These are Breaker Boys, in a mine in Virginia. The photo was taken in 1911. Their job was to sit on these little wooden seats for 10-12 hour shifts and pick refuse from the coal hurting underneath their bare feet. Coal has sharp edges, and it was not unusual for them to get cuts, which became infected because of the coal dust in the air. In order to prevent infection, cuts were cauterized with hot iron, and large cuts were treated with amputation. The coal dust is incredibly carcinogenic, and they were issued no safety gear (but then, OSHA did not exist.) The ages of Breaker Boys ranged from 6 to teens, but the littler boys were the best suited for that tiny space. Laws and custom of the time allowed the overseer to beat the boys if he felt they were doing a bad job.
Breaker Boys weren't the only minors working at the mines. The next picture is of a Greaser.
His name is Shorpy. His job was to jump out between carts on the rails and grease the wheels to keep the cart moving. As you can imagine, it was dangerous. As was being a Breaker Boy. Children ended up in those jobs because they are cheap, easy to exploit labor, and their families needed their income. The actual counts for mortality among children in these jobs are impossible to get; a standardized system for gathering that data did not exist, and neither did clear, national documentation of citizenship and/or birth. I'm going to assume it was not insignificant.
The Child Savers (early sociologists, middle class moral crusaders and some religious figures) responded to the plight of these children a number of ways, including enacting mandatory education laws (with the exception of farm workers; they still have much relaxed laws governing their safety, time spent in school and time spent working), limits to the number of hours which can be worked, and some rules governing how children can be treated on the job. Many of these laws are still used to govern the lives of child workers, because children remain a population which is easy to exploit (along with illegal immigrants, for instance).
Because I know the history of these laws, why they were enacted and the conditions which existed when they were enacted, I find this particularly abhorrent. To argue that the children of the poor don't learn to work and that the laws protecting children only get in the way of them learning to work is about the stupidest fucking thing I can imagine, both because it is ahistorical and because the children of the poor continue to be both a working population (see discussions of urban shadow economies for how children work, even though they are not officially employed; economists estimate, in the black market alone, 1.8 billion people are employed.)
Newt's statements are part of a dangerously ahistorical, disingenuous (I tend to believe he's seen accurate history at some point, if he went to college) and frankly dangerous line of reasoning, and one which is patently false.
Newt is an asshole because he likely knows this, knows what happens to the children of the poor and the children of immigrants trafficked in for cheap, exploitable labor, when they labor, and does not care. The link under 'poor' in the previous sentence discusses the actual value given their lives by companies.
And yes, there is one.
Pictures sourced here.