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Syndic Literary Journal

Photo Essay: California Farmworker – Child Labor



Photo by John Kouns (c.1966)

The use of child labor during harvest season dates back at least to the Industrial Revolution and is still prevalent today, especially in agricultural states that depend upon the use of migrant workers.

It is not surprising.  Workers are paid piece rate, i.e.,  they are paid only for the number of bushels of produce they harvest each day.  In order to earn enough money to survive the winter months when there is no work available and not being eligible for unemployment insurance, the children have  work alongside their parents in order to harvest more bushels and earn extra money.

 It is also true that farmworker migrants travel together as a family unit and without any available child care, their children have no other daytime place to be except with their parents in the fields.

Prior to the passage of national labor law protections – specifically, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – child labor was commonly used in factories, mines, mills, industrial plants and agriculture. Because of racial segregation in our country, farmworkers (and domestic workers) were excluded from any of the protections of President Roosevelt’s  New Deal labor legislation in the 1930’s and child labor remained commonplace in the agricultural industry.

 When will farmworkers be treated with the same respect and granted the same rights accorded to all other workers in our country? When will we rectify this shameful national social injustice?





Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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