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The return of child labour: capitalism turns back the clock

John Bell

August 5, 2022
An auto parts manufacturer in Luverne, Alabama is being investigated for employing children as young as 12years-old in dangerous, demanding jobs. The Hyundai subsidiary - known as SMART - makes components for a local car assembly plant in nearby Montgomery.
The plants are of course non-union. Alabama is a “right to work state” where every trick in the book, from government on down, is used to prevent workers from organizing, and to keep wages low. 
There are federal and state laws prohibiting full time child labour, dating back to the 1920s but the children in the SMART plant are migrants, most from Latin America, who do not have legal documents. Without support, desperate for work to survive, they go to semi-legal temp agencies and job brokers who provide false papers. That includes fake ages. But it is one thing for a 16 year-old to pass for 18, it is another for a 12 year-old.
This shady system allows corporations like SMART and Hyundai to deny any knowledge of underage labour, kicking accountability down the food chain. But child labour is widespread, especially in agri-business like the poultry processing plants that flock to right to work states like Alabama.
Labour “shortage”
Republicans and many Democrats fret about the “labour shortage” that predates the pandemic. Of course there is no labour shortage, just a shortage of jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than obey the so-called imperatives of their own system, supply and demand, and pay workers more, they are openly planning to draw children into the work force.
Typical is the example of Wisconsin. Republicans recently passed a law allowing children as young as 14 to work later into the night on school nights. The state’s Democratic governor vetoed the law. Where Republicans take a straight ahead approach to weakening child labour laws, the Dems tread softer: the Biden administration recently lowered the minimum age of long haul truckers from 21 to 18, despite a wealth of statistics proving younger drivers are less safe. Child labour laws are being incrementally weakened, and worse is on the table.
And before we smugly assume that this trend is just south of the border, removing child labour regulations is a discussion topic in right-wing think-tanks and Tory backrooms. Much of Canada’s agri-business relies on migrant labour, where increasing economic pressures surely drives younger workers into fields and factories.
Organizations like the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (FCPP) – like the Fraser Institute, a “charitable” education entity established by shady corporate benefactors – have long argued that laws limiting the age and number of hours allowed to work is “unfair” to kids.
“Hampering young Canadians from having a job is robbing them of opportunity,” wrote FCPP analyst Brianna Heinrichs in an op-ed in the Regina Leader-Post. “People should not coddle children until they are of age and then act disgusted when young adults express a sense of entitlement or cannot find a job due to lack of experience.”
Paying living wages is not among the options considered by the FCPP. In fact they argue that child workers should be exempt from minimum wage laws, in return for the valuable educational experience they will receive.
The FCPP is based in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and its influence on those provincial governments is evident. If you are interested in what this far-right “Charity” is up to with your tax dollars, check out their websiteand read documents brimming with a white supremacist revision of history, homophobia and trans-phobia, rantings about environmental “extremism” and veiled threats of a civil war to end the dreaded culture wars. 
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