I’ve already put up several pieces about how a wave of strikes are spreading across the American prison system by convicts fed up of being used as cheap, slave labour for big business. In this short piece by The Young Turks’ Hassan Piker, he begins with a quotation from Dostoevsky that a country’s state of civilisation can be gauged from its prisons. And Dostoevsky had personal experience of which he spoke. He was sent to a Siberian prison in which he was bound hand and foot. Piker gives the statistics on the immense size of the American prison population, and how the number of convicts on work programmes for outside corporations. Those companies involved include McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and Walmart. Defenders of the programme say it teaches the cons valuable skills. But Piker points out that they have no union representation, and are paid 23 cents a day, much less than the minimum wage. Piker points out that the prisoner making shirts for McDonald’s is making even less than the person wearing it. Freedom for Alabama, one of the groups involved in the protests, states that this is a form of slavery, as defined and protected in the American Constitution. This outlaws slavery and forced labour, except for the convicted of a crime. Despite the abolition of slavery, this still effectively exists in American prisons, with inmates subjected to various degrading and painful punishments, including the investigation of their bodies ‘as if we are animals’. He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed. The strikes are taking place nearly 35 years after a similar strike by prison workers in 1971. The strikers are aiming not just to improve their conditions, but also to bring down the entire corporate system that has massive boosted the American prison system. Piker comes down firmly on the side of the strikers, but states that many people may not listen to them because of who they are.
The size of the corporate prison system and its corruption of American justice is a major problem over there, and is also an increasing problem on this side of the Atlantic. At the heart of it is the private management of prisons. The companies running them frequently have contacts with politicians and judges in their states. They donate to politicians’ election funds, and put pressure on them to pass harsher legislation on crime. At the same time, the may also have judges on their payroll, whom they also persuade to pass tougher sentences on criminals to send them to prison. Where they can be used as cheap labour for the corporate profit of the prison and the contracting outside company. Michael Moore, the Capped Crusader, in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, covers the case of a young girl, who was given a custodial sentence to an adult prison for truanting from school. The presiding judge in her case was on the payroll of the local prison company.
Private prisons have been introduced over here. I think they might have been introduced under John Major’s Conservative administration. They certainly were under Tony Blair’s, who was very cosy with Wackenhut, one of the leading American private prison firms. Mike ran an article a few weeks ago pointing out that British prisons were also using convicts as slave labour for their firms’ profits, and that this was perverting British justice in exactly the same way the system was over the other side of the Pond. The strikes are led by the syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, and have spread to 40 prisons in 25 states. The incarcerated workers have a point, despite the crimes for they personally have been committed. The system should be stopped, both in America and over here.
Tags: 'Capitalism: A Love Story', 'Freedom for Alabama', Dostoevsky, Forced Labour, Hassan Piker, Industrial Workers of the World, John Major, Judges, McDonald's, Michael Moore, Prisons, Private Prisons, School, Strikes, Syndicalism, The Young Turks, tony blair, Victoria's Secret, Vox Political, Wackenhut, Walmart