Pulling the Rug Out: Let's End Child Labor

By McCarthy, Abigail | Commonweal, September 22, 1995 | Go to article overview

Pulling the Rug Out: Let's End Child Labor


McCarthy, Abigail, Commonweal


We have become a dispirited people because we do not celebrate our victories--or even recognize them. This is the thesis of commentator Mark Shields. He elaborated on it in a summer's talk at a benefit for the Brewster Ladies Library Guild on Cape Cod--not a place where his thesis would attract the media attention it deserved. His talk, appropriately enough entitled Optimism," cited one example after another of what our concerted efforts have achieved but of which we seem unaware.

Our effect on the environment is only one example but it is impressive. Twenty years ago the Great Lakes were polluted and dead or dying. Today they are clean. In 1970 three-fourths of our rivers were unswimmable and unfishable. Today they are clear and fisherman line the banks.

Today 99 percent of the lead that contaminated the air has been removed, largely by the control of auto emissions. When environmentalists first urged controls, both labor and management resisted and made dire predictions. Controls would bring the prices of cars beyond the range of competition. The industry would suffer. Workers would lose jobs. Today, surprisingly enough, despite the controls, Detroit companies, manufacturers of cars, are robust and alive and competing successfully with their foreign challengers.

How did these changes come about? Have we forgotten? First, caring people identified the problems. They gathered in groups and associations to do something about these problems. The groups coalescing became a movement. National awareness grew and a national consensus was formed. Legislation and regulation followed and things changed greatly for the better. Yet we fail to congratulate ourselves on this progress or take pleasure in it.

When we fail to celebrate what we have done, says Shields, we lose heart for the struggles which must yet come. The faith that we can overcome the injustices and the social ills we still face is weakened. We need the optimism bred by past victories to sustain us in gathering together to attack the evils we face.

It is important that we recover that optimism because common effort unites and inspirits people. Who involved can forget the heady days of the civil rights movement or the camaraderie engendered by the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the marches? Even now the heart lifts when we hear it sung again--"We shall overcome, we shall overcome some day!"

A similar cause crying out for our attention and our effort is the battle against worldwide child labor. Because of the globalization of the market place we have become passive collaborators in this widespread exploitation of hapless children. Too often what we eat, what we wear, what we use, is priced as it is because somewhere forlorn little ones drag out their days in dusty fields or in dingy factories and sweatshops. …

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