Let me first say that I am a supporter of both agriculture and of child labor. As someone who grew up in a rural area and having known farm families, as well as someone with degrees in the agricultural field, I have great reverence for those who produce our food and fibre. I also believe that children can and should work, for the value of the lessons it teaches them before the value of the paycheck it provides.
However, I am regularly astounded at the growing stupidity of the American populace and the “controversy” surrounding recently proposed child labor laws struck me as particularly representative of that declining intellect.
Agriculture is the single most dangerous employment sector in the country. This is not a revelation. But, due to recent events in which children working on commercial farms were injured or killed, the Labor Department (in conjunction with child labor advocacy group, Child Labor Coalition) proposed a bill that would limit the type of work that children are allowed to perform. The restrictions would NOT apply to family owned and operated farms.
Let me say it again: The restrictions would NOT apply to family owned and operated farms. And yet, the Farm Bureau Federation (the most powerful and dangerous agriculture industry group in existence) and other industry advocates launched an aggressive campaign against protecting child laborers, claiming that such protections hurt family farms, threaten the rural way of life, burden the industry, etc.
The campaign was successful. The proposal was dropped and, as was pointed out on some of the industry websites, they “won!”
This is disturbing on many levels. First of all, to say that rural lifestyles and family farms are threatened by such a proposal is simply untrue. The proposed legislation exempted family farms. Furthermore, having grown up in a rural area and knowing farm families myself, I never got the impression that being maimed or killed while working the farm was a desirable part of “rural lifestyles” nor a reason for nostalgia.
Second, to say that industry success is more important than the well-being of people is absurd and unacceptable for a country who supposedly prides itself on entrepreneurialism and equality. If “the industry” collapses in the face of unregulated child labor, what does that say about the stability of it to start?
Thirdly, to equate protecting the well-being of the weakest among us with being “un-American” is simply ludicrous. This idea that anything that hampers the free operation of Big Business, even at the expense of the lives of sentient creatures, is anti-capitalist and harmful to society is nothing but Big Business propaganda. The fact that so many people are buying into it reflects the effectiveness of that brainwashing campaign to garner public support for the wealthiest, most powerful, and most destructive among us. If anything, the failure of a so-called “civilised” society to offer a modicum of protection to its members is what is un-American.
Fourth, agricultural entities put forth education as the solution to farm accidents, not labor laws. Agriculture already enjoys long-standing exemptions when it comes to labor regulations and it simply cannot see having to give up any of it. Now I expect the Farm Bureau to take an extreme right position on this issue, but I was highly disappointed to discover that the Farmer’s Union (generally considered to be the liberal counterbalance to the FBF) also officially supported the proposal’s withdrawal in favor of education advocacy. Don’t misunderstand- farm safety education is good and necessary, and the industry has made great efforts to promote safety programs. However, what people are failing to see here is that education cannot combat exploitation. The unbridled use of child laborers IS exploitation, of the brand with which Big Agriculture is VERY familiar. The profit incentive is just too good to use empowered workers, and so there is heavy reliance on child, poor, and undocumented labor. This is something for which Big Ag must be held accountable.
Lastly, the fact that so many people are willing to forsake the facts in order to advance their position, defame the President, and delude themselves is positively frightening. The comments to these articles are appalling in their nature, as they equate concern for children to unwanted “socialism,” economic decline, death of agriculture, and other loosely imagined calamities. Unfounded, unthoughtful, unacceptable.
Look for yourself: