The ongoing investigation into Packers Sanitation Service by the Department of Labor has uncovered that a minimum of 100 children were illegally employed in over a dozen meat production facilities across the country. Children as young as 13 were made to clean dangerous machines meant for the dismemberment of livestock, with at least three children suffering injuries. With such incidents happening repeatedly at multiple locations in multiple states, it is clear that Packers Sanitation’s use of child labor was systemic.
The Department of Labor admits that throughout the investigation Packers Sanitation made efforts to derail the exposure of the truth when investigators showed up with search warrants. Despite these efforts, it was apparent that Packers Sanitation wished to continue exploiting the child labor they had acquired in order to maximize their profits. Ultimately, Packers Sanitation was only fined $1.5 million in total for their use of child labor. Not a single person involved in the horrific exploitation of children was arrested. This is unacceptable.
This kind of exploitation of children is nothing new. By the late 1800s and early 1900s as many as two million children were working in the United States — many of whom were working in appalling conditions leading to serious health concerns and oftentimes death. Industrialists and corporations of the time preferred child labor because children were less likely to organize, accepted meager wages and were thought of as “easier to manage.” It was not until the massive labor movements that swept the early 20th century that child labor was officially outlawed nationally.
One of the most notable fights against child labor was the Lawrence Textile Strike. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, workers of all ages went on strike when the bosses sped up textile machines to compensate for the recently passed law that decreased the work week from 56 hours to 44. In response to the strike, police and military personnel brutalized many of the children as they attempted to leave the city by train. Witnesses described the authorities quite literally throwing children into paddy wagons like ragdolls, with one being only 7 years old.
The violence that was used to suppress the workers and their children garnered massive attention nationally. The subsequent outcry was so intense that a delegation of strikers, adults and children, were sent to D.C. to testify in Congress. The testimonies of the striking child workers, most notably that of Camella Teoli, were so horrific that the state was forced to take action or face the consequences. Ultimately, the strike ended in success and Camella’s testimony garnered enough support to fuel the struggle for the abolition of child labor through to victory.
Like all reforms won by the working class under capitalism, the prohibition of child labor is now under threat. Lawmakers in Minnesota and Iowa have introduced bills that would allow companies to hire minors in dangerous fields like construction and meat production. With the recent wave of workers all across the country standing up and demanding fair wages, bosses are once again looking at children as means of acquiring cheap labor.
Like the brave workers of the 1800s and 1900s, we also have to stand up to defend the most vulnerable in society from the evils of capitalism. When the bosses and politicians look at our children as a means of profiteering, we have to stand up and fight. We can’t allow child labor to become the norm again.