‘Constitutional right to work’? No thanks

“The first federal child labor law was passed in 1916…. Less than a year later it was declared unconstitutional by a five-to-four decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, on the ground that it transcended ‘the authority delegated to Congress over commerce,’ and interfered with states’ rights….

“Six years after that decision a Scripps-Howard reporter interviewed Reuben Dagenhart of Charlotte, N.C., the boy whose ‘constitutional right to work’ overthrew the law which sought to cut his hours of labor as a 14-year-old, from 12 to 8 a day. ‘What benefit did you get out of the suit which you won in the United States Supreme?’ the reporter asked.

“ ‘You mean the suit the Fidelity Manufacturing Co. [his employer] won? I don’t see that I got any benefit. I guess I’d been a lot better off if they hadn’t won it. Look at me! I may be mistaken but I think the years I’ve put in the cotton mills stunted my growth. They kept me from getting any schooling. I had to stop school after the third grade and now I need the education I didn’t get… But I know one thing, I ain’t going to let them put my kid sister in the mill.’ ”

— From “Children Wanted” by Beulah Amidon, in Survey Graphic (January  1937)

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