The GOP’s Big Bold Plan to Bring Back Child Labor

Yves here. So child workers at McDonalds were not an outlier but a trend. And what better way to further beat down labor costs than by bringing in once underage, inevitably low paid help?

By Jim Hightower, a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the books “Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow” (2008) and “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: A Work of Political Subversion” (1998). Originally published at Common Dreams

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.


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, 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 Blackstone profiteers work some midnight shifts cleaning meat-cutting machinery? I’m guessing they would stop the abuse overnight.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Could there be an economic component to the GOP wanting to go all 19th century? Supposing, just supposing, that there might be a problem with a shortage of workers in the coming years and decades. And the present Pandemic is just the mechanism to take a steady toll of workers in all age groups each and every year out of the work force. What this would mean then is that the US would need a steady supply of labour arriving into the country and the source for that is having people come across the border from the south which has been going on for yonks.

    But, and a very big but, the GOP has made it a focal point of their platform to build a wall across the border and stop people coming into the country that way. It is part of the core identity of the GOP and is now in their DNA. So they are hardly likely saying that they should open up the border to a steady stream of workers which leaves the question of how are they to close this future labour gap. Yeah, go for the children. They are already in the country and nearly all would have citizenship anyway. And of course they are cheap and disposable. And it is not like these laws will target the children of the top 10% or so as these would be the children of people who don’t count in any case. So it is not like you will see Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s three kids working in a freezer or factory anytime soon. So economically it would be seen as a win-win for the GOP.

      1. NarrativeMassagerInc

        Queue up the Dem crocodile tears for immigrant children, which will result in absolutely nothing being done to change anything about our monstrous system, as we saw during the Trump years — AOC “crying” in front of a fence, really a parking lot, in Texas is a forever meme now. I’m starting to think all the zombie flicks so many seem to love were mental training for the mass dehumanization underway. The whole global “war on terror” seems to have devolved into: if we can’t kill the world we’ll kill each other.

      2. flora

        There’s a reason corporate US hated T’s attempt to close the border: it reduced their incoming supply of cheap and powerless labor. not kidding. B, being the great humanitarian, has “opened” the border again. / ;)

        1. digi_owl

          And the same mechanic is playing out in Europe, and why i get eternally frustrated with seeing otherwise old school “lefties” flip the table on immigration.

          The problem is not immigration, as such. It is the uncontrolled, undocumented immigration that allows corporations to undermine union efforts and labor barganing power. What a proper left should want is a controlled, settled, immigration that provide citizenship, union representation, and in essence a proper integration into the existing social structure.

        2. JonnyJames

          The Border BS is a giant distraction. No matter which duopoly freak is in power, Donald Chump included, the flow of cheap labor continues and always has. There has been a “border crisis” ever since the first Europeans set foot in North America. Migrants are used as a political football and distraction to blame the victim and divide working people. It works like a charm, folks are all hysterical about “illegals”.

  2. Kyle

    This ties into their push for “parental rights”

    These type of work bills are terrifying for the ramifications.

    Does this apply to state foster parents? Orphanages? Are we going to see children who are wards of the state being forced to work to pay for their “living expenses”

    It is well past time we passed a children’s rights bill in this country. Children are autonomous individuals, not property of their caregiver and our law needs to reflect that.

    For all their talk about protecting children – from things like drag queens reading them books – they really don’t seem to be wanting to protect children

      1. digi_owl

        The list of international agreements and conventions that some US president has signed that the Senate refuse to ratify is long.

        1. JonnyJames

          True, and the US routinely ignores laws and agreements that have been ratified. As George W. Bush said: The Constitution is “just a goddamned pieced of paper”.

  3. jackiebass63

    When I grew up there was no problem with hiring young people to work in minimum wage jobs. These jobs didn’t exist. This was before there was a fast food place or big retail malls.Most employed adults worked in factories, young people mowed lawns or did other similar part time jobs.Then came fast food and malls. There was a demand for workers and many young people got part time jobs after school on the weekend or during the summer.The factory jobs disappeared so those workers took a big hit by having to work at much lower paying jobs. This also helped encourage young people to skip getting an education because they could always find work.They didn’t understand that once they became an adult these jobs weren’t going to provide a living wage.One of the reasons why young people today live at home.All of this has economically segregated our society creating many of the social problems we have today.

    1. playon

      No words… I believe logging is the one of the most dangerous jobs second only to mining. I knew a family here that owned a small logging outfit, one of the brothers lost half the fingers on one hand after getting it caught in a pulley. Setting chokers, cables snapping, often working on steep hillsides etc – it’s an extremely risky profession.

      1. digi_owl

        Not helped by the time pressure, resulting in people rushing in order to avoid any contract penalties etc.

      2. sharonsj

        Next, the Republicans will limit how much you can sue for malpractice and how much companies have to pay (i.e. not pay) for putting workers in danger. They’ve already done this in Texas and elsewhere.

  4. Benny Profane

    Considering the problems the military is having in recruitment, child soldiers are next.

    1. Questa Nota

      When not needed in the armaments factories, where the tiny hands and nimble fingers can do jobs that others won’t.

  5. SufferinSuccotash

    Look at it this way. It’ll keep wages down and help deter grownup employees from doing uppity things like unionizing. What’s not to like?
    /swirls brandy in snifter…

  6. JonnyJames

    We have mass debt peonage, mass poverty, and perverse levels of income and wealth disparities, so I guess the next step backwards would be child labor. That will help to bring down wages and boost profits. If exploiting and abusing desperate migrants is not enough, why not exploit their children?

    Also: Since AI will make much of the workforce “redundant”, we can have a new industry that will help solve the climate and environmental crisis: Soylent Green. Since the US has a rapidly declining average life expectancy, we can use the surplus population as sustainable fuel, fertilizer and even food. That can be the “Green New Deal” and will have bipartisan support. Soylent Green can be a new commodity on the market, and we can get in on the ground floor to make “a killing”!
    (sorry for the bitterly sarcastic, twisted humor)

  7. lyman alpha blob

    I like Hightower’s framing this as a “so-called labor shortage”, because there isn’t one.

    What we have is a business surplus coupled with rising real estate prices that no longer allow the working class to be able to afford to live where the jobs are.

    There is no need for fast food franchises on every corner of every town, and yet that’s where we’re at – everyone thinks they’re going to strike it rich by owning a franchise and underpaying for labor. About 15 years ago I received a sales pitch about the joys of owning a franchise during a required weekly visit for “job training” at the unemployment office. When I asked where they thought any of us unemployed people were going to come up with the couple hundred grand required to buy into a franchise, I was met with rather icy stares from the presenters.

    In the 90s, I could easily afford an apartment in downtown Seattle by working restaurant jobs in the city, and that was with me spending the vast majority of my income partying like a rock star, irresponsible youth that I was at the time. Now there is no way anybody could live in those neighborhoods doing restaurant work even if they were teetotaling homebodies, so downtown businesses shouldn’t be surprised they can’t find help – they’ve priced the working class out.

    1. flora

      True story. A few years ago in a restaurant, I overheard a loud man at the next table (a small franchise owner from the sounds of it) declare to his table’s diners that what this country needs “is a new working class. Workers who don’t expect so much in wages.” There was a murmur of agreement from the table. / oy

  8. Mikel

    When ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) fell off the news radar, people forgot about lingering child labor dangers.
    Even if some companies dropped association with that organization, they were still fully invested in deregulation and a variety of exploitative ideas.

  9. Inspuciant Iowan

    NAFTA and CAFTA are prime examples of US trade and development programs driving people off their land and into cities to foster unemployment, poverty, and violence. Pressures to survive increase daily and drive people to extremes, e.g., walking hundreds of miles in hopes for crossing the US border and finding work.
    Iowa’s ag would be crippled w/o immigrant workers. Mexicand and Central American families have revitalized communities such as Storm Lake and Marshalltown.

  10. Cetra Ess

    Children seem to be a recurring theme.

    I’m trying to figure out how the Marj Taylor Green’s crowd constant freakouts about pedophiles, going on about LGBTQ grooming of children, are also the same base putting on highly sexualized beauty pageants of their own pre-teen children, all about diminishing women’s reproductive rights, and how does all this this translate into supporting child labor….oh, hrm….that’s very disturbing.

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