Showing posts with label child labour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label child labour. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Learning to organise

Shining shoes, mining and herding animals among the many jobs done by an estimated 750,000 children between five and 17 in Bolivia. Rodrigo Medrano Calle is a Bolivian labour leader who meets and lobbies top government officials. That's not surprising in a country where pay is often low, working conditions harsh and unions play a powerful role in society. Rodrigo is just 14 years old, and his union's members are all children, the Bolivian Union of Child and Adolescent Workers (Unatsbo), which represents thousands of under-18s.  In Bolivia, its successes include organising pay rises for children who sell newspapers on the city streets of Potosí from 6 cents (½p) to 12 cents a paper, using negotiations and the threat of strikes. And it's not just a Bolivian phenomenon: there are similar organisations in Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Colombia.

Bolivia's informal economy includes everyone from bricklayers to farmers to shoeshiners, who work without contracts and set schedules. Many adults are part of this market, as are the great majority of child and adolescent workers. Child workers are in a legal blindspot: their work is prohibited and so they have very little defence if employers exploit them through long hours, physical or verbal abuse or refusing to pay a decent wage. "If you have to work, then you have to work exploited,"  Luz Rivera Daza, an adult counsellor for Unatsbo, said . "This just makes you more vulnerable."

In a country where poverty is widespread and the minimum wage is $150 a month, living expenses can overwhelm a family. Young workers seem to be everywhere. In the countryside they help their parents in the fields, herd sheep and llamas, or do the brutal work of mining or the sugar cane harvest.

Rodrigo believes that instead of attempting to end many forms of child and adolescent work, the goal should be ending exploitation by creating part-time, safe and better paying jobs for young people who want them. "Why should there be a minimum age if the work is voluntary?" he asked. "The work of a child or adolescent is not bad – it helps society, it helps a family, and it helps us grow as people."

In Marx's time, working class children spent the greater part of each day slaving in factories. Clearly, this had to cease immediately. However, Marx did not believe that all this time was better devoted to classroom learning. This, too, would stunt the child's development. Instead he favoured an education that "will in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive labor with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings." In capitalism, parents have considerable control over their children's health, education, work but, given the parents' own problems and limitations, this power is seldom used as well as it should. In Capital Marx quotes approvingly John Bellers a 17th century English writer, on this subject: "An idle learning is being little better than the learning of idleness... Labor being as proper for the body's health as eating is for its living; A childish silly employ... leaves the children's minds silly." In the Gotha Programme Marx writes that "technical instruction, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place in working class schools." (our emphasis)

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