The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System

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 He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed.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.

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8 Responses to “The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System”

  1. The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System — Beastrabban’s Weblog – Says:

    […] via The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System — Beastrabban’s Weblog […]

  2. joanna Says:

    Oh There are so many pro’s and con’s (excuse the pun please).

    Why should prisoners, automatically have minimum wage jobs, when there are countless, law abiding citizens who don’t have a job, they need one to live. Prisoners already have food and shelter ( in some places ).

    Surely prisoners have forfeited the right to a normal paid working life whilst they are in prison. This makes me angry because no-one would ever hire me for a job because of my lack of education, I have never committed a crime.
    No commercial business should ever have contracts with prisons, and get labour cheaply!

    With prisons in the UK, can you imagine the outcry if prisoners were denied food if they refused to work, or physically couldn’t work, yet the government has no qualms visiting that tortuous punishment on people who observe the law. I have no problem with prisoners being paid less than the minimum wage, unless of course, that money is to be given to the offenders victims. Our rights are being eroded, why should they get more rights than we do?

    I am so sick of hearing about prisoners being cosseted, and therefore having better lives than normal people, prisons should be so tough that people won’t want to go there again!!!

    But there should also be therapy, victim awareness and a reward system, not the national minimum wage for a job they are more certain to get than being normal unemployed outside!

  3. joanna Says:

    Also consider this if you would please? If the monster who raped me, had actually gone to prison, I would have had No problem at all if he had been treated like an animal or worse! He stole my innocence and a part of my soul!!
    After all he acted like an animal when he raped me, I was only 14.

    I would hate to think that I could be wearing clothing made by the scumbag!! It makes me shudder just to think about it!

    • Beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jo. Yes, you’re bound to have mixed feelings about this issue. I think most people probably feel the same way you do, and certainly most rape victims and their friends and families. I’m really sorry you suffered this assault along with all the other things you’ve been subjected to.

      Firstly, I don’t know how far prisoners are cosseted in jail, if at all. I’ve heard it said that if you can survive the army, you can get through prison very easily. That said, there’s a lot of despair in there. Private Eye in their ‘In the Back’ column used to cover cases of offenders, who committed suicide in prison. There was a crisis a few years ago in the high number of young offenders, teenagers, who had committed suicide, something after being convicted of a minor offence. It’s one of the reasons why there is pressure on ministers to keep those convicted of such minor crimes out of the prison system. As for rapists and sex offenders, cons in prison don’t like them any more than anyone else. It’s why they have to be isolated in their own wings, as otherwise they will be attacked and somebody will try to kill them.

      The problem is that the punishment has to fit the crime. This seems to go way beyond it. Convicts have traditional been made to do some form of labour. At one time it was sewing mail bags. The problem is that this is turning their punishment into a form of lucrative exploitative labour for the corporation. The low wages involved aren’t anything new, in themselves. When I was at school over thirty years ago, we were given a talk by a prison officer, as part of the regular series of talks given to sixth-form pupils by various people. The prison officer talked about the convicts working, and how they were paid so many pence per hour. Very low pay. the point is that they weren’t being exploited for private profit. This is what the issue here is. No-one doubts that they need to be punished. It’s just that the punishment has to fit the crime, and the prisoners should be forced to pay their debt to society. In this case, they aren’t. They are working for no or little wages for big corporations. Corporations that are rich enough to employ free labour at the minimum wage, but aren’t. That’s not mentioned, but it is part of the problem.

      As for the government treating benefit claimants worse than prisoners by denying them food and compelling them to work under the workfare and sanctions system, you won’t find any argument against your views there from me. That’s one of the major criticisms Mike over at Vox Political, and others have levelled against the work programme: it treats benefit claimants worse than convicted criminals. This isn’t an argument for treating prisoners any worse, but for abolishing workfare.

      Best wishes, Jo, and hope that answers some of your questions and objections. 🙂

  4. joanna Says:

    Thank you Beast, I realise prisoners need something constructive to do, I think it might be a good Idea to have some sort of animal rescue in prisons, because it has been proved that animals do bring the best out of people. If it well supervised, it would take some of the slack off animal charities which are stretched.

    Talking of prisons in America, I have heard of one where the prisoners live in secure tents, they earn money with which they have to pay for their meals, about $1 per meal, but they do have an opportunity to do one of the worst jobs , but for good wages, those who don’t want to do the work are locked up in the normal prison and given standard food (meatloaf) which is not tasty but it is supposed to be highly nutritious.

    • Beastrabban Says:

      That’s interesting, Jo- I hadn’t heard about that prison. It sounds an interesting idea. As for caring for animals, I think you have to be careful, who you let do it, as I can imagine some criminals have very little sympathy for animals and might get a kick out of maltreating them. Having said that, many prisons do have their own prison farms, or at least gardens. These have continued despite governments of both left and right trying to abolish them. They’ve carried on because it’s been found to have real benefits with the prisoners. It’s part of the evidence that greenery and natural light have very beneficial effects on people in prisons and hospitals.

  5. joanna Says:

    Of course every prisoner would have to be carefully checked.

    A huge gaping flaw I find is nasty, is that businesses are very willing to exploit prisoners, but when they are released I bet not one of those businesses will ever give them a chance on the outside, that is why I disagree with them having contracts in prisons.

  6. The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System — Beastrabban’s Weblog – radicalsubjectivityblog Says:

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