In February I wrote about how Missouri was gutting child labor protections. Now Maine is attempting the same. According to Democracy Now! Republican lawmakers are trying to roll back Maine’s child labor laws with two new bills that would allow bosses to pay anyone under the age of 20 a full $2.25 per hour less than their minimum wage (for their first 180 days on the job), and it would allow teenagers to work an hour longer on a school days. The Huffington Post said that Bill LD 516 would allow 16 and 17-year olds to work until 11:00 pm on school nights (currently they are only allowed to work until 10:00), while LD 1346 would allow them to work up to 4 hours per day on school days.
In related news, Maine’s Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage removed a mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the state's Labor Department building. Working In These Times reported that he also ordered the renaming of conference rooms that had been named for labor leaders, like Cesar Chavez and Triangle Shirtwaist activist Rose Schneiderman. Apparently, Maine’s ruling elite felt the mural was brainwashing the masses into becoming communists.
Perhaps LePage believes that by erasing labor history, people will forget that there ever were child labor laws, collective bargaining, eight hour work days, or that these were won through successful strikes and other job actions. By making child labor cheaper and more available, Maine is increasing competition for scarce jobs at a time when unemployment is still high. Furthermore, children are not just cheaper; they are also easier to bully, harass and convince to do dangerous or unethical things on the job.
While it may seem shocking or stupid that politicians are gutting child labor, environmental, and workplace safety laws, cutting taxes to the rich and starting new wars during a recession, and cheerleading nuclear power in the middle of one of the greatest nuclear disasters in history, it is really just an indication of an increased audacity and not some sort of new goal. The ruling elite have always hated any rules that limited their profits. What is different today is a growing sense that they can have it all and have it now, a belief that is based in large part on the overall weakness of unions and other social movements.