The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

U.S. Corporations Exploit Child Labor

Mar 6, 2023

In just the last two years, more than 250,000 children have entered the United States by themselves, about half from Guatemala. Caseworkers interviewed by the New York Times estimated that about two-thirds of them work full time.

Children as young as twelve make parts for Ford and G.M., package Cheerios and Cheetos, prepare baked goods for Walmart and Target, milk cows for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, make Fruit of the Loom socks, and clean equipment in meat packing plants. They often work 12-hour shifts, overnight, in every part of the country, from garment factories in Los Angeles to cereal factories in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Many of these children arrive with debts they have to pay off. They need to send money home to desperate family members—many reported that they left home because their families had no food. Some are also exploited by sponsors in the U.S. who take their wages. But others live with family members who are themselves desperate, already on the lowest rungs of the U.S. working class. An aunt caring for three children of her own on minimum wage is also a victim of this system when she needs the wages of her 13-year-old niece to pay the bills.

When this reality was exposed by an article in the New York Times, the Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress swore they would do something about it. They even proposed to increase penalties for companies that hire children illegally—the current maximum fine is just $15,000! But the main crackdown falls on the children and their families.

One 13-year-old girl worked cleaning a meatpacking plant overnight for a contractor, Packers Sanitation Services, owned by the giant Blackstone Group. For employing 102 children, aged 13–17, to clean slaughterhouses, this company paid a 1.5 million dollar fine—barely a blip for a corporation worth tens of billions of dollars. But for the child, the government intervention to “protect” her was a disaster. Her stepfather was sent to jail for driving her to work. Her mother also faces jail time for helping her get the job. The whole family is threatened with deportation.

And if this child is deported to Guatemala, what will happen to her? If she is lucky, she will get a job at a banana plantation, or a textile or garment factory, or maybe in a plant making auto parts. Like in the U.S., she will work for a subcontractor—and the products she makes will end up profiting the same U.S. companies, Ford, Walmart, Target, a U.S. supermarket….

The extreme exploitation of children is not a product of immigration, or of greedy family members. It is a result of the capitalists’ drive to maximize profits by paying as low as they can for labor, everywhere in the world. This system is organized to allow the dominant capitalists in the world—the ones right here in the U.S.—to profit as much as they can from the desperation of children, whether they are in Guatemala, Haiti, or Grand Rapids, Michigan.