By Manifesto Joe
The Golf Links
The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.
-- Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn
Newt "Boss Hogg" Gingrich has a doctorate in history, so he damned sure ought to have known better than to open up this can of worms. During an address at Harvard University last month, Gingrich said that U.S. child labor laws have done "more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. ... It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in ... child laws, which are truly stupid."
Here's a link to a report on Boss Hogg's Harvard address and related issues.
Boss Hogg would essentially kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. His idea would, for example, permit school districts to bust janitors unions by replacing most of them with little kids working part time. A given campus would have an adult "master janitor" in charge of the tykes, and together they would keep the building and the grounds clean.
I might ask whether the adult "master janitor" would be required to have a green card, but I suppose that's a bit irrelevant.
Gingrich coming out for the repeal of certain child-labor laws is pretty significant since he may now be the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. It's certainly as significant as Texas Gov. Rick "Goodhair" Perry's bogus comparison of Social Security to a Ponzi scheme.
At a time when millions of Americans are desperate for work, it seems the height of right-wing smugness that Boss Hogg would be coming out with this position now. There aren't enough jobs for adults, yet he would have schools across the country busting the janitors unions and hiring low-wage children to replace them. Someone should remind this "historian" that FDR signed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 because during the Great Depression, there were men and women desperate enough to take low-wage jobs that had long been filled by children.
Perhaps if Boss Hogg had ever known that kind of desperation in his whole life, or had known someone who had, his point of view would be different.
Personally, I spent many boring summers growing up in a small South Texas town without work, even after attaining legal age. I was 17 by the time I got my first job. Before then, since there was little to do, I helped my family by tending the vegetable garden, and spent the rest of the time watching TV, playing sandlot baseball with other kids or actually READING BOOKS. The school system I attended was barely adequate, so after some point I may have learned more at home than I did in the classroom.
And, one thing I remember vividly from childhood was an old man who had been put to work in the tobacco fields of North Carolina when he was 7. My mother's parents lived either with or near us until my grandfather died when I was 13.
This old man went to work at age 7 and worked until he was 71. The child-labor issue has much personal resonance with me, because I remember this man so well. He had a good, quick mind. He could add up a column of numbers in his head, like a savant. He was interested in politics and loved to argue, so some relatives speculated that if he'd had a chance, he might have been a good lawyer.
Radio had opened doors for him, and TV even more. He was a loyal listener to the KTRH "All-News Weekend" that originated from Houston, and was a devoted viewer of Walter Cronkite the other days of the week.
Problem was, since he only went to about three weeks of school before being put to work, he never really learned how to read.
Oh, he could handle simple things like traffic signs -- he'd been a great truck driver in his day. And, he learned how to sign his own name to documents and such. But he had to have the newspaper or letters from relatives read to him.
My grandmother, who had been to the sixth grade and qualified as literate, offered to teach him how to read. Apparently out of shame, he never took her up on it. He should have.
In any case, I got to know quite well and firsthand a victim of child labor. It condemned him to a lifetime of toil and relative poverty, and a painful awareness that he never really had much of a chance for anything better.
It's not that what Boss Hogg has in mind is quite as bad as this was -- he's proposing the legalization of part-time work for children in generally nonhazardous jobs. But I find it offensive that he would go public with this especially now, when plenty of grownups out there can't buy a job.
And, I find it offensive on behalf of a tobacco-chewing old man in overalls who would have made a terrific lawyer but never had a chance. Boss Hogg, those laws were passed so that the children of future generations wouldn't have to witness such wasted potential.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.