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

Child Labor:
A Measure of Exploitation

Jun 26, 2023

This article is translated from the June 16 issue #2863 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

On the International Day Against Child Labor, June 12, the International Labor Organization stated that 160 million girls and boys aged 5 to 17 are exploited around the world. This is 8.4 million more child workers than four years ago.

In this regard, the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF wrote, “These working children are everywhere, but invisible: servants in the houses, behind the walls of the workshops, hidden in the plantations. The worst forms of child labor include the use of children as slaves, prostitution, the sale of drugs, crime or recruitment as soldiers in conflict situations or for other dangerous work.”

This description is not just valid for poor countries where imperialist domination has created the conditions for fierce exploitation. It also applies to the imperialist countries themselves, and particularly to the United States.

The Department of Labor reports a 69% increase in child labor in the U.S. since 2018. A survey last February described tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who entered the U.S. illegally and have no other choice than to work on farms or for a number of subcontractors at large industrial groups in some 20 states.

In agriculture, 30,000 children do piecework until their physical abilities are exhausted. We are a long way away from the recurring Hollywood character of the little newspaper delivery boy making his rounds by bicycle before going to school.

The only limit to exploitation is the resistance of workers. Capitalism always revives and recreates child labor, regardless that its laws forbade it during periods of prosperity or under the pressure of workers’ struggles.

But exploitation of children does not only produce shameless profits, daily misfortunes, and UNICEF reports. It also generates revolts and revolutionaries like Victor Hugo’s Gavroche in Les Misérables—ready to mount the barricades at the first call.