As part of the New Deal in 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA) that outlawed child labor in the United States. The child labor prohibition was ruled unconstitutional, but was passed again in 1938 and has protected children from forced labor and unfair working conditions in all industries since its inception. Republicans have tried to repeal every law in the New Deal since its beginning, and today’s corporate-driven conservatives are making it their goal to finish off the provisions of the New Deal once and for all. There has been a call to either end or privatize Social Security, and Republicans have attempted to defund or eliminate every safety net and provision for caring for disadvantaged citizens and children; some legislators have claimed Child Labor Laws are unconstitutional. As Draconian as it seems, a Missouri State Senator has proposed legislation to eliminate child labor laws altogether in Missouri.
The State Senator, Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), introduced S.B. 222 last week and gave a litany of reasons why child labor laws are bad for children and parents. The woman is absolutely certain that current restrictions are “implying that government can make a better decision than a parent.” The current law in Missouri bars regular employment of children younger than 14, and imposes strict restrictions on children age 14 and 15, including the hours they are allowed to work and they are required to have signed permits from the school they attend. Cunningham says the law burdens schools with the responsibility of deciding if a child can work or not, but it is not a responsibility issue. Schools have a responsibility to the student to give them the best opportunity to succeed and if a child is failing or struggling to keep up with their studies, it doesn’t make sense to allow them to work when they should be studying.
Cunningham’s bill is more about providing cheap, slave-like labor than protecting a parent’s right to control their child. Some of the provisions in S.B. 222 are: eliminating the restriction on the number of hours or when a child is allowed to work, eliminates work permits, removes the authority of the state Labor Division to inspect records on child employees, allows children to work in any industry, and eliminates the age requirement for child labor. Every one of the provisions of her bill are to help businesses and nothing to help children or parents. There is no minimum wage provision for children under Cunningham’s legislation and if there were, the Division of Labor will never be able to verify the minimum is being met because the new law forbids inspectors from looking at employment records.
Cunningham’s bill also removes safe working conditions for children because if no records are kept or available for inspection, any injury is not covered because technically, the business did not have a child in their employ. It is the best of all worlds for any business looking for slave labor because a business can pay dirt wages, work the child as many hours as possible, and pay no overhead such as Worker’s Compensation insurance in case of workplace accidents. It is the archetype of Republican goals for all workers in America, and taking advantage of children is just the beginning.
Cunningham’s most absurd argument is that children do not learn a work ethic unless they are allowed to work at any age, any hours, and as often as the business requires them to work. It is a remarkable argument because the child labor laws have been in existence since 1938 and generations of Americans have an incredible work ethic. Cunningham may have had problems teaching her own children what a good work ethic is, but most parents do a fine job without subjecting their children to performing slave labor.
There have been more than a couple of Republicans who have suggested that child labor laws are unconstitutional and it is just another example of conservatives and businesses attempting to undo the New Deal that has been successful in protecting workers since 1933. Republicans have been attempting to eliminate the Social Security Administration since its inception, and every election cycle they get a little closer to convincing stupid greedy voters to eliminate the system completely. Republicans are still attempting to break unions like they did at the start of the New Deal even though they are responsible for worker’s rights, decent living wages, and protection from unfair labor practices. It is no coincidence that the corporatists and Republicans who opposed labor reform, union organizing, and child labor laws since the New Deal are the same people opposing them today. The companies and politicians may have different names, but the tactics, arguments, and complaints are exactly the same. Republicans want to give businesses the ability to use slave labor until a worker has outlived their usefulness, and then they want them to die. No retirement, no health insurance, and no compensation for on the job injuries or death.
Republicans hate Americans and since they have taken control of the House, they are on a rampage to eliminate any and all programs that help the American worker whether it is retirement savings or unemployment insurance. The new Republican Congress promised jobs, but they have only set out to punish women, and now children. How any man could vote for a Republican is a mystery because the vile cowards are going after and punishing women and children, and they are doing it at the urging of Christians and corporatists.
At some point, Americans must stand up to the corporatist Republicans and protect our women and children. Slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln, and it is certain that the biggest opposition came from large plantation owners because their profit margin was jeopardized. Whether it is calling the minimum wage unconstitutional or eliminating child labor laws, Republicans will, if given the opportunity, bring slavery back to increase corporate profits. If they can take Americans’ retirement savings and give it to Wall Street, they will do it tomorrow. If they can take our children and make them work for free and deprive them of an education, they will do that as well. If Americans cannot protect their women and children, all is lost. In Missouri, a senator named Cunningham is taking the first step to fulfill every conservative’s wish of undoing the New Deal and sending Americans back to the 18th century. Who will stop them?