by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent
The Oregon Statesman followed up its editorial of yesterday addressing the prospects for socialism with a discussion of “Cheap Cotton and Cheated Children” in terms that could well describe the last Congress:
There was hope this year, among people who want children to get a fair show at childhood, that the back of the child labor dragon would be broken. The Palmer-Owen bill, introduced into congress some time ago, which aimed to put a ban on interstate commerce in goods produced by child labor, passed the house of representatives late in 1914 with a very large majority in favor of it. There was hope that it would pass the senate.
It was not even considered. There is an ancient rule of the senate by which the objection of one member is enough to prevent consideration of a bill. The cotton men were afraid of that bill, especially in North Carolina. Wherefore Senator Overman of the much worried state, where they appear to care more for cotton than for children, objected to its consideration.
The ground of the senatorial objection was that child labor is a state problem, to be governed by state legislation.
This would be interesting – if the children of one state differed so much from the children of another that they needed different treatment: or if the state which demanded to care for its own children without federal interference took so much better care of its own that federal legislation would mean backward moving.
As a matter of fact, the cotton manufacturers of North Carolina succeeded – before the federal bill came up – in defeating all child labor legislation before the state legislature. They packed the committee of manufacturers to which the child labor bill was referred. Their lobby, forty strong, appeared before the committee to urge the unfavorable report that followed.
The happy children of North Carolina, thanks to the cotton lobby, may continue to stop school at the age of 12, go to work in the mills at 13 for sixty hours a week, and take about even chances of dying of tuberculosis between 15 and 19, or of living stunted, ill-paid lives and dying of causes due to debilitated youth somewhere under 50. The mortality rate among cotton operatives is only about five times as great as among the rest of the population. If King Cotton is to be really a great king, will he not take pains to be both merciful and just?