• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

On the Virtues of Child Labor

We’re not advocating or promoting the practice of child labor in Third World or “emerging” nations. Indeed, if I had the power to fix all that needed fixing, I (like most people) would start by creating a world where every child was provided a stable, loving family, exemplary nutrition, free education, an appreciation of modern art, and an abundance of creative free-play. Basically, have them all live like white kids from the better parts of Manhattan.

Moreover, as a labor writer and former union representative, I’m well aware of labor’s role (going back to before Mary “Mother Jones” Harris) in abolishing child labor in the U.S. The drive to outlaw child labor in this country wasn’t led by Congress or the Church or philanthropists. It was led by America’s labor unions.

But there’s a side to child labor that is not only complicated, it’s riven with paradox. For one thing, when I lived in India, those of us who objected to young girls operating looms in Kashmiri rug factories didn’t have a problem with children working (“Little House on the Prairie” style) on their family farms—girls sewing, helping with the cooking, feeding the chickens, and boys caring for livestock, harvesting, and cleaning the barn.

It’s easy to overlook (or dismiss) the fact that back when the U.S. was still mainly a rural economy—and before there was free public education (free elementary schooling wasn’t available to all Americans until near the end of the 19th century)—children routinely put in almost as many hours of work as the adults did. Not only did these kids do the work, the work they did actually mattered. It wasn’t done to “build character”; it was done to prevent the farm from failing.

Another thing that’s easy to overlook (or dismiss) is that virtually every society in history that evolved from a rural economy to an industrial economy went through its “sweatshop” period. A society doesn’t go from a hard scrapple, dawn-to-dark agricultural existence to gleamingly clean, air-conditioned assembly lines overnight.

That level of industrial evolution generally requires a transitional period of a generation or two, and unfortunately, that “transition” takes the form of grungy sweatshops. Europe experienced it, the U.S. experienced it, and the Third World is experiencing it.

Also, the abolition of child labor in the U.S. wasn’t universally welcomed. Far from it. To poor families living on the precarious edge of sustainability, losing the precious income provided by their children could mean the difference between scratching out a living and being thrown into abject poverty. It’s no exaggeration to say that, as noble and humanitarian-minded as the abolition of child labor was, it also resulted in the ruination of many families.

Which brings us to the Third World. When I lived in India many years ago I was taken to task by a college political science professor, a member of the CPI (Communist Party of India), who regarded my objections to child labor (I had seen 10-year old boys running lathes in a haphazard machine shop) not only as sanctimonious meddling, but as a form of “cultural imperialism.”

Communist or not, this professor recognized the stark realities of the marketplace, one of which was that, like it or not, these children were providing a valuable contribution to their parents, a contribution that, undeniably, was helping to keep the family unit together bodily and spiritually.

When I tried arguing that relegating 10-year old children to factory work (instead of sending them to school) was a self-perpetuating proposition—that without the benefit of an education these 10-year olds would one day be 20-year olds, still consigned to menial labor—he flatly rejected it.

Maybe it was pride, maybe it was being sick to death of Americans preaching to the world, or maybe it was a valid observation, but he insisted this phenomenon was transitory.

As for “self-perpetuation,” he reminded me that child labor hadn’t “perpetuated” itself in either Europe or the U.S., so why would it perpetuate itself in Asia? He politely urged me to butt out of Indian affairs.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 23, 2019
Kenneth Surin
Western China and the New Silk Road
W. T. Whitney
Stirrings of Basic Change Accompany Protests in Haiti
Louisa Willcox
Inviting the Chief of the Grizzlies to Our Feast
Jonathan Cook
The Democrats Helped Cultivate the Barbarism of ISIS
Dave Lindorff
Military Spending’s Out of Control While Slashing It Could Easily Fund Medicare for All
John Kendall Hawkins
With 2020 Hindsight, the Buffoonery Ahead
Jesse Hagopian
The Chicago Teachers Strike: “Until We Get What Our Students Deserve”
Saad Hafiz
America’s Mission to Remake Afghanistan Has Failed
Victor Grossman
Thoughts on the Impeachment of Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion
John Horning
Spotted Owls and the National Christmas Tree
Dave Lindorff
Moment of Truth on Military Spending in the NY Times
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail