In a New York Times advice-to-the-landed gentry column published on Saturday, one denizen of the plutocratic Upper East Side of New York City is torn about whether to say something if s/he sees something in the ongoing War of Economic Terror of the rich versus the rest of us. In this case, the "something" is a 16-year-old boy working double shifts as a doorman at a pricey building.
The condominium in which I rent an apartment employs a 16-year-old doorman. He recently worked a double shift on a Sunday, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., which violates state child labor laws. I find myself in an ethical quandary. Isn’t the condo open to prosecution for breaking child labor laws? Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules so he is not exploited? At the same time, what if he is the only wage earner in his family? Any thoughts on what to do?How seriously the Times takes this question is evidenced by its accompanying illustration, casting the Doorboy as a cherubic white cartoon character straight out of South Park.
|The Littlest Doorman (Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times|
|South Park Stan|
If the Times viewed the comeback of child labor as anything more than a passing social quandary for the pathologically wealthy, they might have gone the route of sociologist Lewis Hine, whose Depression-era, WPA-funded photography of "Kids At Work" literally saved the lives of thousands of effectively enslaved children. If the Times were honest, its editors would have made this shallow advice column front-page news, just as Hine's scathing "Making Human Junk" broadside slapped the robber barons of yesteryear right where they didn't yet hurt.
One lawyer, while telling the Times that employing a child for 16 straight hours of guard duty for rich people is a clear violation of state and city labor laws, still advised caution on the part of the condo-dweller with a conscience. Reporting the offense might get the tenant evicted. Another expert suggested that the concerned citizen approach the doorboy directly, thereby putting the onus of labor violations directly on him. Ronda Kaysen, the writer of the piece, splits the difference, and suggests that the questioner approach her fellow tenants for further advice.
When all else fails, oligarchic solidarity is just the ticket. Kaysen did not suggest inquiring about the child's personal situation, commuting time, hopes and dreams, or suggest increasing his tips into the realm of the living wage to enable him to cut down his hours, or god forbid, direct him to the Doormen's Union, which might picket the building.
Let's face it: the only reason for the obscenely wealthy to hire a child instead of an adult is because underage, underpaid, under-educated wage slaves are less likely to be unionized and more apt to be exploited. It was the organized labor movement and advocacy journalism that once put an end (on paper, anyway) to child labor in the first place. The new robber barons hate unions with the same brutal intensity as their pre-New Deal, pre-globalization predecessors.
And that goes for both of our corporate political parties and the antisocial donors who own and control them. Former Obama adviser David Plouffe, now in charge of public relations at Uber, is spearheading the anti-union charge at his own company. He most recently prevailed against mildly progressive New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who had once sided with unionized taxi drivers before Plouffe and the 21st century robber barons of the Upper East Side made him an offer he couldn't refuse. It could always be worse. they tell us. Uber responsibly requires its low-wage workers to be at least 21 years old, with three years' experience behind the wheel. They are, after all, responsible for transporting millionaires, not simply carrying their packages and opening their doors for them.
It could always be worse. For instance,who can ever forget Republican Newt Gingrich's call to replace unionized school custodians with pupils working off their school lunches with their slave labor? The Newt is just one of thousands of cold-blooded .01 Percenters whose Depression-era dreams are most likely of the wet variety, not the nightmare variety experienced by the masses.
If the Littlest Doorman looks, in real life, anything even remotely like the children photographed by Lewis Hine during the last Gilded Age-spawned Depression, it is apparently news that the Times doesn't see fit to print: