US prisoners are being used as slave labour for the 1 percent – now they’ve had enough

Tom Coburg

All across the USA right now, thousands of prisoners are on strike. They are demanding an end to a new form of slavery – the exploitation of prison labour.

The prisoners are being backed in their struggle by a number of organisations, in particular the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) – a syndicalist union, the Anarchist Black Cross – a prisoner solidarity organisation (originally set up to provide support to Francisco Franco’s prisoners in Spain), and the Free Alabama Movement (FAM).

Other support comes from The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), the Free Virginia Movement, the Free Ohio Movement, the Free Mississippi Movement, the New Underground Railroad Movement (CA), and Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People.

Companies that regularly use prisoners in the US as slave labour include: Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, and McDonald’s. UNICOR, also known as the Federal Prison Industries, is another company that makes huge bucks from prisoner-made products and services. FPI made $472m in 2015 – and that was only for federal institutions. Federal and state prisons combined are estimated to produce at least $2bn in goods and services.

There is also the issue of ‘Good Time‘: early release granted for unpaid hours worked – works well for the companies exploiting this free labour, of course.

The Canary recently published a story on how the US Department of Justice announced they would be ending private prisons. But only around 22,000 of the 193,000 federal prisoners are held in private facilities. So the announcement won’t affect the vast majority of the 2.2 million prisoners in the US. Today, ethnic minorities make up 37% of the US population but 67% of the prison population.

The IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee states:

Members of the IWW have created the IWOC, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, which functions as a liaison for prisoners to organize each other, unionize, and build solid bridges between prisoners on the inside and fellow workers on the outside. Prison is a setup, a big business, there to make money off the People. Neither the setup, nor the slavery inside of prisons can be combated without the conscious participation of prisoners and the working class on the outside through mutual aid, solidarity, and the building of working relationships that transcend prison walls and the politics of mass incarceration.

The strike did not happen overnight, but was part of a lead-in via many actions:

Get Involved!

– Donate to IWOC

– Donate to IWW General Defense Committee fund

Featured image via @ROAR_Magazine tweet (Note: the photo is from the 1971 Attica Prison rebellion, which took place on 9 September and which claimed the lives of dozens of prisoners and guards.)

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