The Connection Between Child Labor and Labor Day

Image from MarketWatch.

Did you know that over half of the approximately 152 million children who are working in child labor situations across the world do so in dangerous and hazardous conditions, like open-pit mines or construction sites?

According to the International Labor Organization, the actual definition of child labor is “work that is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children that interferes with their schooling, by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.”

Across the world, out of the 25 million people who are living in forced-labor situations, over 6 million of those workers are children. 7% of those kids live in Asia and the Pacific, and are in many instances being forced to work against their will. Africa’s the same way, with over 19% of their children living in the same kind of harsh situation.

Child coal miners during the Industrial Revolution. Image from Reddit.

But, you’d be surprised as to how many children are performing child labor right here in America every day. According to AFT, a union of professionals who created the website called “In Our Own Backyard: The Hidden Problem of Child Labor in America”, there are approximately half a million minor farm workers in the United States who are working 72-hour work weeks, and are as young as 8 years old.

The holiday we celebrate in the United States and Canada every first Monday of September called Labor Day was originally recognized by workers for three main reasons. They were to protest, march, and simultaneously have picnics, concerts, and all kinds of fun celebrations that promoted (1) their right to fair wages, (2) their right to organize into workers unions, and (3) to put an end to child labor.

So, the question is, why is child labor still going on so casually today, even though we celebrate Labor Day as a National Holiday every year?

A Brief Background about Labor Day and Child Labor

Labor Day got started in Canada and the U.S. in the 19th century because there were a lot of workers out there who were compromising their rights within the workplace. But, there was a time when a worker’s union could be legally formed in the United States, but not in Canada.

History of the Holidays, Labor Day. The History Channel on YouTube.

Workers in the Great White North didn’t get that freedom until thousands of disgruntled laborers marched up to Prime Minister John McDonald’s house one day in 1872, demanding their worker’s rights to form a union of their own. McDonald must have been scared as hell when he saw all of those pissed-off workers on his doorstep, because that same year he made it legal for Canadians to form unions, just like workers in the United States were allowed to do.

After that, those thousands of Canadian workers started doing the same thing every year, except they started adding in lively celebrations to their annual marching. After about a decade of having this event, they decided that they would invite a New York labor union leader to the big party in 1882.

His name was Pete McGuire, and he enjoyed Toronto’s labor celebrations so much that he took the idea back to New York. After he informed the Central Labor Union back at home how much fun he’d had, he suggested that they have the same type of celebration every year.

An image of child laborers from over 100 years ago. Image from The Atlantic.

All of his friends in the union agreed, and ended up picking September 5th to celebrate, since there was a huge gap on the calendar with no holidays from Independence Day through Thanksgiving.

Word about the huge event spread to New Jersey and other parts of the country, but Labor Day didn’t become a National Holiday until the Haymarket Square Riot in 1894, when the railway workers in Pullman, Illinois (one of the many neighborhoods of Chicago) went on strike. They were protesting because their wages had gotten cut drastically.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland started feeling pressure to stop the strike in Illinois, so he sent 12,000 federal troops to the location. The workers didn’t back down from the soldiers, and violence erupted. Four union leaders got executed, and several other police and workers were also killed.

Afterwards, President Cleveland wanted to make peace with the workers across America, especially after the bloody event hit headlines nationwide. So, he finally made Labor Day an official National Holiday a few days after the riot. While all this was going on, children as young as 10 years old were working in harsh coal mines and factories in very dangerous conditions.

A very young girl laboring in a field in North Carolina in the year 2019. Image from NC Field.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Fair Labor Standards Act is “designed to protect the educational opportunities of youth and prohibit their employment in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety.” Meanwhile, according to statistics provided to AFT from the Government Accountability Office, “100,000 child farm workers are injured on the job every year” and “children account for 20% of farming fatalities.”

Does that not qualify as being “detrimental to the health and safety” of these innocent children?

How We Normally Celebrate Labor Day Today

Underage children are still working in the year 2020, for up to 10 hours a day, right here on the farms of America. Why is this being ignored? Why are these kids not in school instead? And, if they are enrolled in school, then why are they still not being able to enjoy their childhood when they are outside of the classroom instead of being put to hard work illegally on farms all across this country at such a young age?

I’m from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a city where summer time is the busiest time of the year and Labor Day marks the end of that season. We celebrate it just like anybody else across the country, with barbecues, cookouts, and family time.

But, after reading this article, when Labor Day comes around, hopefully you’ll be mindful of why it was created in the first place. And, if you know of any situations where child labor is occurring illegally, you’ll report it swiftly to the authorities where you live by directly contacting the U.S. Department of Labor at 1–866–4-USA-DOL (1–866–487–2365).

Thanks, and I hope you all have a Wonderful and Happy Labor Day!

Curiosity drives me, but I’m mostly interested in researching and writing about urban news, music, and health topics. A lil’ politics, too. Sometimes.

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