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May Day 2023: Unions And Fair Wages For Some ... Child Labor For Others?
Republicans hope to stem the tide of worker's rights by bringing back child labor.
Today is May Day — also known as International Workers Day throughout the world, except for the United States. It's a day meant to honor both workers and the martyrs of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago. In the US, we have the much more sanitized "Labor Day" that is less about radical labor movements, general strikes, wrongfully executed people, and the bloody fight for an eight-hour workday than it is about hot dogs and when it is appropriate to wear white shoes.
Fun fact, that's Patty Hearst she's berating for her fashion choices
There's something particularly American , I think, about a day for workers becoming attached to a ridiculous and arbitrary etiquette rule for the upper classes, meant to bestow "not one of us" status on those who violate it.
Very Serious Pundits like to talk about how the biggest issue in America is that we are "so divided now," but we've always been divided in various ways. It's just that, at one point, the only people who were widely heard from were the people whose labor concerns were largely shoe-related.
Over the last few years, however, labor has made a comeback. We've seen strikes. Demand for a living wage has gone up (despite the fact that this is the longest we've ever gone without raising the federal minimum wage). Demands for subsidized child care have grown, and we've seen almost 300 Starbucks get unionized. The pandemic allowed many people stuck in dead-end jobs that don't pay a living wage the opportunity to look for something better. Things may have not changed as radically or as quickly as some of us would like, but the cultural zeitgeist is certainly moving that way. The Reagan-era ethos of "We must do all we can to please the job creators if we want to survive; we must work 80-hour weeks when we are being paid for 40 to prove our dedication to capitalism" has been dissipating for a while now.
This has not gone unnoticed by the anti-labor Right, and this year, they started biting back. This is the year they decided to start trying to bring back child labor.
Just look at the excited looks on the faces of these children as Arkansas Governor Sarah Sanders Huckabee signs a law that will allow them to work eight hours a day!
“Here's Sarah Huckabee Sanders repealing Arkansas's child labor laws. Later that day these kids were seen washing Sarah's car, painting her house and making Starbucks runs, as Sarah told them, "Stop crying and start vacuuming"”
— Paul Rudnick (@Paul Rudnick) 1678632977
While some of us are moving towards a more equitable future for everyone, others are looking toward the sins of the past in hopes of stemming that tide. Perhaps this is even why they are so very desperate to discuss the sunnier side of slavery in school rooms? Perhaps they think that by pushing for the extremes, they will move the Overton window back to where they want it.
It's not a coincidence that the Right has suddenly decided that the absolute best thing they can do for the children of this country is to ensure that they are able to work long hours in unsafe jobs. They see what is going on with young workers and on the Left and they are countering that with "Oh, you want to earn enough to pay your rent, huh? Guess we'll have to give your job to an eighth grader!"
It is a grand tradition, really, to threaten workers who demand more with being replaced by workers who will accept less. That being said, it's worth noting that one of the things that really spurred widespread support of the labor movement was, specifically, child labor. Nice Middle Class White Ladies of the day were actually pretty appalled by child workers and threw their support to those movements as a result — so this may not be the winning issue they think it is.
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