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The Newsies Strike & The Reemergence of Child Labor

Society has always pushed for advancement over time. The value of human life has increased as we learned to respect worker safety. The value of our labor has increased as we’ve learned to respect women and all oppressed minorities in the workplace. The value of childhood has increased as we’ve learned that children must spend their youth playing, learning, and preparing for adulthood, or has it?

In 1872 There were over 10,000 homeless children roaming the streets of New York. Many of these were members of a working group called “The Newsies.” The typical Newsie would buy 100 paper bundles and they made their money by up-charging from the price set by the newspaper companies. Unsold papers were not allowed to be returned for any sort of credit and referred to them as “independent operators.” These companies would even recruit these children and assign districts or streets to sell the products. Some of these homeless children were even coerced by the newspaper organizations to live in company houses where they would be charged “tickets” for 2 meals and a bed in a communal sleeping area.

During the Spanish-American war the two main newspaper companies of the day rose the price of their paper from 50 cents to 60 cents claiming an increase in interest in news of the war. The Newsies wanted the price back down to 50 cents because they could only make 25 cents a day at the current price. On July 21, 1899, the newsboys reached their limit with the wage loss and went on strike. 300 newspaper boys met at Park Row near the distribution center and set forth a team to discuss their demands, but their arbitrators were denied. They immediately went through the city looking for any scab paper sellers to tear their papers up and throwing rocks at anyone trying to buy the journals. These attacks on strikebreakers escalated to the point of turning over delivery carts, tipping stands, and garnering a strike fund from sympathetic members of the community. Solidarity was so strong among The Newsies that they eventually formed their own unions. It’s worth noting that many of these children were 5-12 years old.

Over 120 years into the future and where do we find ourselves? Not looking back at the progressive social change that has prevented children from being in the workforce, not celebrating the education of our public schools, not expanding free education into college so we may achieve one of the best workforces in the world. No, instead we are fighting for our kids to have a free lunch in school, We are attacking our public schools with private school vouchers. We are fighting against any reform that would help our workforce excel into affordable college education. And even worse than all of that, we are rolling back regulations on child labor. In some states, 14 year old children are now allowed to work without parental consent. Children are being burned by toxic chemicals in meat packing plants, often immigrant children who have been hired illegally and hidden from the lacking standards of our day. We are letting the drive for profit and monopolization continue unchecked, and as we’ve bled dry our current workforce we are scraping the bottom of the ethical barrel dragging children and retirees back into the workforce. Class consciousness is rising at a rate unseen in the last 100 years among the workforce. Demands for better wages, unions, benefits, and quality of life are the outcries of this generation. But the disgusting retaliation by the soulless bosses and politicians for the blood of our children and elderly are a price that we must fight with every fiber of our being, because our youth will not be sacrificed for the unchecked profit of decrepit billionaires.


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