Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Workers of the World’

The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System

September 16, 2016

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 He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed.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

Vox Political on the Government’s Privatisation of the Prisons

May 19, 2016

Mike yesterday also put up a piece on Vox Political from the Canary, reporting that the government is planning a stealth privatisation of the prison system. They’re to be transformed into independent ‘reform prisons’, which can set their own wages and conditions for staff and inmates. It’s very much like the government’s stealth privatisation of the schools by transforming them into academies, especially as it’s being done by Michael Gove, the same person, who masterminded the school programme.

The Canary reported:

In the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, the government announced its new prison and courts reform bill. At the heart of the bill is the creation of several new “autonomous reform prisons” which, says the government:

“will give unprecedented freedoms to prison governors, including financial and legal freedoms, such as how the prison budget is spent and whether to opt-out of national contracts; and operational freedoms over education, the prison regime, family visits, and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services.”

It’s hardly necessary to say that business opportunities and profits also loom large in the Tory plans:

And, as with academies, the prison reforms will open up commercial opportunities for those in charge of them. Prison governors will have “unprecedented operational and financial autonomy”, says David Cameron. They will be given “total discretion over how to spend” their budgets. They will be able to “opt-out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers”. And, just to be clear, “we’ll ensure there is a strong role for businesses and charities in the operation of these Reform Prisons”.

There are a number of privately-run prisons in America, and these have been the subject of a number of scandals. As for-profit institutions, they do exploit prison labour, and lobby lawmakers and judges in their states to pass harsh anti-crime legislation and punishments, which will maximise the number sent to prisons. It’s very much like the old Stalinist system, where the gulags – the forced labour camps to which dissidents were sent – were used to industrialise the USSR. Local industry leaders gave the NKVD a list of the types of workers they needed, and the forerunner of the KGB then came round and arrested a few imperialist/Trotskyist/Fascist running dogs. Exactly the same is going to happen here.

The scandal has been covered by Michael Moore in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, where he reports on the case of a teenage girl, who was sentenced to prison for what was basically just truancy. The judge, who sentenced her was in the pay of one of the private prison corporations.

And in America, the prisoners themselves have begun to strike back against what they see as their exploitation.

In the piece below from RT, their anchor talks to Jim Del Duca of the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee about a strike by inmates in a Texas prison against their exploitation. Del Duca explains that the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, did not do so for prisons. They see themselves very much as America’s new slaves. They’re paid 5 cents an hour for their work. This is not for the taxpayer, and the money saved does not go back to the state. Rather, it goes to the private corporations, who use prison labour. These include a wide range of industries, including construction, and the defence industry. Del Duca points out that the defence industry receives vast amounts of government funding and is immensely profitable. For the prisoners themselves, conditions are very different. Del Duca discusses the problem of overcrowding and increasing numbers of prisoners being crammed into gaols that simply weren’t built to hold that number. He also says that phone calls to family are immensely expensive, and if a prisoner wants to make a phone call for medical aid, this will cost him $100.

Finally, they discuss how members of the public can help the striking prisoners. Del Duca and his fellows are members of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies, a documentary on whom I posted up on this blog not so long ago. People can support the strike by joining the union, getting in touch with the striking workers, or simply refusing to buy goods produced by prison slave labour.

I have to say I find the prospect of prisoners going on strike bizarre and faintly comical, like something from some of the comedies of the 1970s commenting on strikes and industrial unrest in that decade. But there are serious issues here about the humane treatment of prisoners, the balance between punishment and rehabilitation, and simply not getting profit through slave labour.

Back in the 1920s the radical playwright and author, Antonin Artaud issued a manifesto for the Surrealists. In it, he urged the people to rise up, and open up the prisons and the lunatic asylums. This is going way too far, and the last thing anyone wants is more thugs, rapists, murderers, muggers, fraudsters and thieves running around. We’ve got far too many of those in the House of Commons as it is. But when faced with the grim exploitation of for-profit private prisons, you can see his point.