Thursday, February 17, 2011

Labour Literature

I rarely write about politics in this blog but I think that it is important to understand, from literature, why child labour laws are important. Missouri Sen. Jane Cunningham is proposing elimination of her state's child labour laws. The text of the legislation is:

"SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment."

The obvious comparisons of this legislation are to the works of Charles Dickens who wrote about the horrors of child labour in books like David Copperfield. However, other authors wrote poignantly and pointedly of the misery that the working class experienced before the enactment of union inspired labour laws. Non-fiction works such as Twenty Years at Hull House by the crusader Jane Adams show how desperate the lives of workers were in sweatshops and tenement lives before reforms. The fiction of Rebecca Harding Davis, who wrote Life in the Iron Mills or the Korl Woman, and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair detail the wretched living and working conditions that unions have fought against since the early part of the 20th century to contemporary times. Life in the Iron Mills is about workers in a mill who suffer from harsh labour conditions and an indifferent society. The Jungle is about the dangerous conditions in the meat-packing industry that still exist for many workers today. The mentioned books are a must introduction to the world before unions and labour laws improved conditions for workers.

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