A hundred years ago in the early part of the 20th century, there were a number of strong movements for social reform. Women were calling for the right to vote, workers were struggling for the legal right to join unions, efforts were made to equalize the educational output of the public schools, etc., etc. A dramatic battle going on at that time was a determined effort to eliminate child labor. Children as young as six and eight years old were working in factories for as much as 12 hours a day, receiving pay that was a mere pittance at best.
With the New Deal, Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishing a federal minimum wage, guaranteeing overtime pay and prohibition of child labor for children under 16 years of age. This law was to apply to all industries except one – AGRICULTURE. Today, eighty years later, the agony, injustice and cruelty of brutal child labor continues to go on in America’s industrial farms.
Thanks be to God for Public Citizen, an organization founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader. This fine group continues to lead a difficult struggle to eliminate the evil and shame of child labor in American life. Testifying before Congressional committees, Public Citizen has stated unequivocally that, “Child labor should be abolished but if it is to remain legal, it should be restricted to only the safest jobs and tasks. Permitting children under the age of 16 to work for below minimum wage pay, often for 12 or more continuous hours, in dangerous conditions, harks back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution when children worked in perilous factory jobs for slave wages, a chapter in American history most thought was long gone, but which is alive and well on industrial farms across the country.”
When you are eating your strawberries or holding a beautiful tomato in your hand, you may wonder if it had been picked by an 11-year-old boy who had already been working nine hours when he picked yours.