Factory Girls and Boys

This post, “Factory Girls and Boys,” documents child labor in the early years of the 20th century. The photos make me extremely angry. Not long ago, I wrote a post titled, “Austerity, The New Slavery.”  More and more, I become convinced that modern capitalism depends for its existence on the exploitation of cheap labor.    “Business ethics” really is an oxymoron. In America alone, we had widespread slavery and child labor, out in the open, in broad daylight! And not in the distant past. American industry has always supported immigration for a steady supply of cheap, expendable labor. The White House and the Capitol were built by slaves, the railroads were built by immigrants, and the industrial sweatshops were operated by women and children. After slavery and child labor were abolished, unions gained a toehold. Minimum wage laws and occupational safety laws were enacted over the objections of business. Not surprising that in the second half of the 20th century, industrialists began to move American factories to any faraway land where labor is cheap, plentiful, and unregulated. Thanks to historian and blogger Donna Seger and photographer Lewis Wickes Hine for opening my eyes.

— John Hayden

streetsofsalem

I always feel a bit sorry for myself on Labor Day weekend, as it’s back-to-school time and usually I am engaged in a mad dash to get my course syllabi done.  Of course this is ridiculous, as I have the cushiest job ever and most of the summer I’ve been free to do as I liked.  It’s good to remind myself what labor really is, and nothing does that better than the photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), who transitioned from educator to social activist, all the while armed with a camera.  In 1908 Hine became the official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and began his life’s work:  documenting child labor across the United States. This was a time when one in six children between the ages of five and ten worked outside the home in “gainful occupation”, and the percentage increases dramatically for children over the…

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