Friday, January 6, 2012

Bosses' attacks on child labor laws intensify as part of their offensive against all workers

Mike Kussow is such a kind-hearted and productive human being.  He is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Grocery Association and it is retailers, the service industry and the grocery chains that are behind the efforts, some successful, to weaken child Labor laws. In Wisconsin, the bribery strategy worked as an amendment was inserted in to the state budget bill days before Walker signed it that would relax protections for young ‘uns.

Before the amendment, 16 and 17 year olds couldn’t work more than 26 hours during a school week and more than 50 hours a week during vacations---not exactly strict child Labor laws.  The passing of the amendment has eliminated those restrictions.  Kussow makes it clear that the members of the Grocery Association have no intention of overworking the kids or creating a “sweatshop”, they “Just want to give kids that great first opportunity you get in a grocery store.”

Bless their grocery store owner little hearts.  I’m sure they were influenced by Newt Gingrich’s statement at a meeting at Harvard last year that he would do away with “truly stupid” child Labor laws that prevent kids in poor neighborhoods from being put to work. * Business Week points out that old Newt one upped himself in December during a GOP debate saying that “Poor kids could learn the value of a hard days work by taking the jobs of Union janitors at New York public schools.” You have to hand it to these folks, people who do no productive Labor, he earned lots of money as a consultant to Freddie Mac, $1.6 million to be exact and another $800,000 as a consultant to the US chamber of Commerce for “thinking” about the economy. These people know nothing about hard work, workers and poor workers especially know about hard work when they can find it.

It’s not just Wisconsin either where child Labor laws are under attack.  In Maine a bill was introduced last year to increase the number of hours 16 and 17 year olds can work in a week from 20 to 32 and to allow the bosses’ to pay them $5.25 an hour, $2.25 less than the state’s minimum wage. The president of the Maine restaurant Association believes its wrong to prevent a young teenager who “wants” to or who “needs” to work from doing so.  Freedom, that’s what it’s all about. A compromise was reached at 24 hours and they have to punch out by 10.15 pm says BW.

The legislation that is supposed to protect children is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Under the FLSA, children must be at least 14 to get a job and when school is in session, 14 and 15 year olds are barred from working before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. according to BW.

It's easier to get at them in the global south
The bosses have always used children, prisoners, and immigrants as a means of undercutting higher paid and organized workers; the more vulnerable, the better---that’s why prisoners and soldiers should have Unions---that’s why we should join forces with all immigrant worker, undocumented as well.  It is in our class interests to do so.  It is no accident that the FLSA was passed in 1938 when only a couple of years before half a million or so US workers occupied the factories and workplaces of this country in the great upsurge that led to the formation of the CIO.   Much of the legislation favorable to workers was passed in this period, it was simply the politicians of the bosses codifying in legislation what had already been won in the streets and workplaces of America.

I was with some grocery workers tonight who are facing attacks by the same grocery bosses on their pensions and rights. These same grocery bosses who are driving the efforts to weaken child Labor laws are attacking Unionized workers at the other end of the age scale.  It is a disgrace and a reflection of the crisis in the leadership of organized Labor that a grocery worker with 41 years on the job is earning $21 an hour. $21 is close to poverty wages in the state of California. We pointed out in an earlier blog how the heads of the UFCW here in California chose as their person of the year in 2009, the CEO of one of the major grocery chains; the guy who is waging war on their members and our children and who belongs to two or three country clubs with fees over $100,000 a year.

It was the rise of industrial unionism, the workplace occupations, the strikes, the mass picketing and defiance of the law that forced FDR and the Democratic Party to pass legislation favorable to workers and our families in the 1930’s.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement is resurrecting these great traditions of the US working class and it is to these traditions that the working class of today, the 99% must return.

* It’s not just Newt who wants kids to work. Business Week1-09-12

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