Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks, Are child labor laws unconstitutional? 16 Feb '11

Thom Hartmann: Greetings my friends, patriots, lovers of democracy, truth and justice, believers in peace, freedom and the American way. Thom Hartmann here with you. Our telephone number: 866-987-THOM. And if you would like to argue with me, occasionally people do, 866-745-CONS. It’s actually a separate set of numbers, 866-745-CONS. and in our program today, in our second hour we’re going to get into some detail in what’s going on in Wisconsin. My old friend John Nichols is going to drop by, the Washington correspondent for the Nation Magazine, who lives in Wisconsin much of the time. And it looks like, you know, this is, this is just an ongoing train wreck.

You’ve got a governor and a republican legislature that are just basically saying to hell with organized labor, to hell with working people. They just, they just, they just don’t give a damn about working people. I mean that’s what it comes down to. And I mean, period. They want to do away with peoples’ ability to negotiate things like workplace safety rules, for people who are working with like heavy equipment, places where people can seriously get injured.

So in fact if you have a chance, go over to and you can link over to a rather lengthy debate I had last night on RT TV with Seton Motley about this. It was quite entertaining. But at least he’s, this guy’s honest. He comes right out and says that he favors the interests of the ownership class, he calls them the productive class, over working people. I mean there is a real sentiment on the right that can be summarized very simply—to hell with working people. And now they’re taking it even a step farther than that.

Oh and by the way in the third hour of our program we’re going to be talking with Dr. H. Gilbert Welch. This guy has written this fascinating book called “Over diagnosed.” And it’s about how we are massively over diagnosing illness in this United States, which is feeding this huge industry of healthcare. Making our healthcare system more expensive, causing many of us to be wildly over-treated, ranging from drugs to surgery, for things that really probably should just have been ignored. And we’ll get into that. It’s actually a very controversial issue. So we will get back to that.

So taking this war on organized labor to its logical extreme. A lawmaker, a woman by the name of Jane Cunningham, a republican, this is the kind of thing, I don’t know if I’m putting a sexist hat on or not, here. But you know this is the kind of stuff that men used to advocate. Let children work, right? But women typically were opposed to and the suffrage movement was very strongly opposed which was a women’s movement, by and large, although there were a lot of men on their side in the, during the Progressive Era, from 1900 to 1920, were opposed to children in the work place. Organized labor was opposed to children in the workplace.

There were basically two reasons, three reasons. One was the simple reason that children in the workplace were competing with adults and thus driving down wages, which is of course why employers loved it. The second reason is that children in the workplace were being exploited, exploited badly. A lot of these children were being physically exploited, sexually exploited, they were working, it was not unusual, not unusual, for children to work 60 and 80 hour weeks, 7 days a week. And third, these children were not, because they were working, they were not growing up to become productive members of society because they didn’t know, they didn’t learn how to read and write, they didn’t go to school. And so there was no investment in the next generation, there was no investment in the future. So it was a net negative for everybody except the rich employers.

So this piece of legislation by senator Jane Cunningham, Missouri state senator Jane Cunningham and I would think it’s probably fairly easy to Google her contact information if you want to let her know what you think of this. The official summary from the bill, this isn’t you know, some wild-eyed liberal reading this. This is the official. This is what the republican wrote, this is the official summary of the bill.

”This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age 14. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also removes the authority of the Director of the Division of Labor Standards,” that would be of the state, “to inspect employers who employ children.”

Now if you think that this is just one crazy woman, Jane Cunningham, out in Missouri, think again. Mike Lee, the new US senator from Utah, Oren Hatch’s colleague, the freshman senator from Utah, just praised recently Hammer versus Dagenhart. Now what the heck, you say, is Hammer versus Dagenhart. Hammer versus Dagenhart. In 1916, a law was passed. The first one, the first attempt was in 1914, in Arkansas, the Arkansas Federation of Labor. They, this was a ballot initiative. They put it on the ballot, and the voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of it in 1914. So in Arkansas they outlaw child labor.

In 1916 a group, a coalition, the NCLC, that’s the National Child Labor Committee, the National Consumer’s League, they got before congress I 1916, US congress, a law called the Keating-Owen Act, which was the first federal child labor law. So along comes the supreme court. Actually along comes a guy by the name of Dagenhart. Roland Dagenhart, who worked in a cotton mill in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his two sons and his two sons were providing a substantial pat of his income. And somebody paid for him and his sons to argue this before the supreme court, saying it’s unconstitutional, his kids should have the right to work. His 10-year-old should have the right to work in a cotton mill.

The Keating-Owen Act, keep in mind in 1916 to make this illegal. So in 1917 he files this law suit and a local district court, or a federal district court, agrees it is unconstitutional. And so the United States attorney at that time, a guy by the name of W. C. Hammer appeals this to the supreme court. Thus Dagenhart versus Hammer. And in that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that it’s none of the federal government’s business whether children are working in the workplace or not. Period. It’s up to the states. This is a tenther position.

Justice Day, who wrote for the Majority, this was in 1918 said, “The congress does not have the power to regulate commerce of goods that are manufactured by children. He said that congress can regulate goods that are inherently evil and had already done so.” Lottery schemes, prostitution, liquor. But the goods made by children were not immoral themselves, it’s just the way that they were made is of arguable morality. And therefore congress could not regulate that. He also said, This is from the actual decision. “The unfair competition thus engendered to manufactures in those states where the local laws prohibit child labor.” In other words, it’s, it was not fair that one state, in this case, well in the original case it was Arkansas. But it’s not fair that one state have the power to say no children can’t work here, and another state says yes they can, because then you have unfair competition between the states. So we can’t have that, that’s a violation of the 10th amendment. So that’s where the law stood. And the Supreme Court stood until 1941. And I’m going to tell you where it changed in 1941 and why today’s conservatives want to take us back to 1918. And may even be able to do it, given the composition of the current supreme court which is just about as crazy as it was in 1918.


Thom Hartmann: Speaking of child labor, Justin Bieber has come out, he’s a Canadian citizen. And he says of us, you guys are evil. Somebody asked him are you ever going to become a US citizen you know, you’re making a fortune here. He goes, “You guys are evil. Canada is the best country in the world. We go to the doctor, and we don’t need to worry about paying him but here your whole life you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature and now he has to pay for it. In Canada if your baby is premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to and then you go home.” There you go.

Okay, so. The history of this thing is really straightforward. Back, this was the Lochner court, the famous Lochner court back in 1918, ruled that the Supreme Court has no right, or rather that the federal government has no right to regulate child labor within the states, period. Now there was a dissent in this case, it was justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and he dissented strongly. He said that goods manufactured in one state and sold in other states are by definition interstate commerce and thus falls under the commerce clause of the constitution. And here’s a, this is just this wonderful quote. He said, “The notion that prohibition is any less prohibition when applied to things now thought evil I don’t understand. To say that it’s permissible as against strong drink but not against the product of ruined lives.”

In other words, Congress had already established, and the Supreme Court had already established, that it’s okay to pass laws to stop evil things at a national level. So you know Justice Holmes is saying this is an evil because it produces ruined lives. How is that any different? You know, you prohibit alcohol because it ruins lives, you prohibit a whole variety of things, they prohibited gambling at one point, you know, federally. I mean there’s a variety of things.

So in 1941 this was revisited. This was during the Franklin Roosevelt Presidency. The case was United States versus Darby Lumber Company. And Darby Lumber Company was hiring kids who were you know getting their fingers sawed off and their hand sawed off and all kinds of problems. You know, back in that day the rate of injury for children in cotton mills and woodworking, you know any of these places where there was, was three times higher than for adults. Can you imagine being a 12-year-old that loses a hand? How is that going to affect your future? And by the way there was no national healthcare at that time in the United States. At that time Germany had a national healthcare system, we didn’t.

So anyhow what happened was in 1941 the United States, the Supreme Court, went back to Holmes’s dissent in the 1918 case and said this is absolutely classic and they basically wrote an entire case based on Holmes’s dissent, saying no sorry the federal government does have the right to regulate these things, it does fall under the interstate commerce clause, because the production of cotton by these children, which was the original one and in this case it was lumber. The production of lumber by these children, even though the product is not inherently evil, it damages lives and we can say no.

But here you have senator Mike Lee from Utah, the Republican, the new republican senator from Utah, saying eh this is wrong. We should go back to 1918. When labor had no rights. I mean this was even before 1935, before, you know when the National Labor Relations Act was passed. The Wagner Act. And you have an actual lawmaker in the state of Missouri actually proposing an actual law. State senator Jane Cunningham, saying you know let’s do away with child labor laws. Let’s allow kids to come back into the workplace.

Now I would think that at the very least the Republicans who are horrified because those, oh my god it’s the brown people from Mexico, those illegal aliens are coming in and competing with our workers and stealing our jobs. That they would be worried that the kids would do the same thing. I mean you know regardless of race, religion, creed, or national origin. Well assuming they’re all Americans. Do you really want to add another 40 million people to the workforce? You know everybody between 9 years old and 16 years old? Just like that? What’s your unemployment rate going to be? Not to mention, but this is the insanity of the tenthers. And this is a movement that has deep roots now in the Republican party.

These people are quite serious about this. They don’t just want to roll back Jack Kennedy’s reform and things like you know the Peace Corps. They don’t just want to roll back Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and programs like you know aid to poor women, infant children, Head Start, National Public Radio was started during the Johnson administration. They don’t, you know they don’t want to just do away with all that stuff. They don’t even want to, well they don’t even want to do away with things that were started during the Eisenhower administration. They don’t want to JUST do away with things started during the Eisenhower administration. Like strengthening of labor laws, increasing minimum wages. They want to go all the way back before Franklin Roosevelt was elected and repeal the New Deal. This is all about repealing the New Deal.

You have to understand this. Bernie has said this several times on this program. I’ve never heard another democrat say, well Bernie is not a democrat. But I’ve never heard a democrat say this out loud. This is really important. If there’s nothing else I say today that you carry home, you have to understand this. The agenda of the modern day Republican party and in particular the tea party and the billionaires who support it, is to roll back Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal which included regulation of the banks, the Securities and Exchange Commission, labor laws, all those things, power of labor. Roll all that stuff back so that you basically have a country that is run no longer by politicians. I mean they pass the laws and things. But it is run by very, very wealthy people. And in the case of the current court, very wealthy people in China, in Europe, in Africa and South America.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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