A nationwide prison work stoppage and hunger strike, begun on Sept. 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising, have seen over 20,000 prisoners in about 30 prisons do what we on the outside should do—refuse to cooperate. “We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves,” prisoners of the Free Alabama Movement, the Free Ohio Movement and the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee wrote in a communique.
This round of prison strikes—there will be more—has had little outside support and press coverage. There have been few protests outside prison walls. Prison authorities—unlike during the 1971 Attica uprising when the press was allowed into the yard to interview the rebellious prisoners—have shut out a compliant media. They have identified strike leaders and placed them in isolation. Whole prisons in states such as Texas were put on lockdown on the eve of the strike. It is hard to know how many prisoners are still on strike, just as it is hard to know how many stopped work or started to fast on Sept. 9.
Before the strike I was able to speak to prisoner leaders including Melvin Ray, James Pleasant and Robert Earl Council, all of whom led work stoppages in Alabama prisons in January 2014 as part of the Free Alabama Movement, as well as Siddique Hasan, one of five leaders of the April 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville, Ohio. (The Ohio revolt saw prisoners take control of the facility for 11 days after numerous grievances, including complaints about deaths allegedly caused by beatings from guards, went unanswered.) Now, authorities have cut off the access of these and other prisoner leaders to the press and the rest of the outside world. I have not been able to communicate with the four men since the strike began. Continue reading →
Protests Planned In Over 20 States To Expose ‘Slave-Like’ Conditions In U.S. Prisons
Thousands of inmates in state and federal prisons in up to 24 states are planning an organized strike and protest on Friday — potentially the largest prison strike in U.S. history. Planned for the anniversary of the Attica Prison riot, the protest aims to bring widespread attention to inhumane living conditions, “slave-like” labor, and daily injustices that plague the shadowy cell-blocks of the justice system.
Across the country, it’s common practice for American inmates to be forced to work in “slave-like” conditions, doing long hours of hard labor with little or no compensation, and they’ve had enough. Though the strike on Friday, as planned, is the largest yet, the national prison work stoppage comes after a long, largely unreported build-up in collective action among America’s prisoners protesting these conditions.
On Friday (Sept. 9) prison inmates across the US will participate in what organizers are touting as the “largest prison strike in history,” stopping work in protest of what many call a modern version of slavery.
The protest, organized across 24 states, is spearheaded by the inmate-led Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and coordinated by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a branch of an international labor union. Its manifesto, published online by “prisoners across the United States,” reads:
This is a call to end slavery in America…To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.
The strike will be held on the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison revolt, when prisoners took control of a maximum-security correctional facility near Buffalo, New York, demanding better conditions and an end to their brutal treatment.
‘It’s Just Dressed Up Slavery’: America’s Shadow Workforce Rises Up Against Prison Labor
Dismantling the myths that drive an exploitative multi-million-dollar industry.
As soon as Stewart Anderson stepped foot inside the Lorton Reformatory, a Virginia prison, he knew he’d have to work for negligible pay in order to endure his 20-year sentence. At Lorton, prison labor was voluntary. But prison food was difficult to swallow, and Anderson wanted to supplement his diet with commissary items: peanut butter, noodles, dried fruit, and Kipper Snapper, a brand of fish in a can.
“It was more of a volunteer thing than it was forced labor, but it was tantamount to the same thing,” the D.C. native, who was convicted for assaulting a police officer, told ThinkProgress. “The system systematically forces you to work without ‘forcing you to work.’ Poor quality of food drives you to take on a prison job that pays you an average of 32 cents an hour, and you worked an average of five, six hours a day.”
Because he was able to read and write well, Anderson was always assigned to clerical work — answering phones and keeping inventory of products made by fellow prisoners. He was hellbent on avoiding the grunt work that most people have to do behind bars: scrubbing floors, cooking, sewing clothes, manufacturing license plates for the general public. He was equally determined to develop and hone skills he could use to employ himself when he got out. All the while, he was under no illusion that the purpose of the work was to train people like himself for the day they re-entered society.
[The following is an open letter from a comrade associated with End Prison Slavery in Texas addressed to IWOC; all typos, etc, remain as in the original letter.]
Revolutionary Greetings Comrades!
I hope all of you are doing well.Today is August 8th, 2016 – yesterday I was notified by a friend that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles DENIED my release on Parole for the 5th time!
My Good Time, Work Time, and Flat Time calculations equal to 100% of my current 20 year sentence – yet here I remain.
And this is one of the key issues we are challenging in Texas – I am a Text – Book example which exposes the Flaws in a system which continues to enslave the poorest cross-section of Amerikan society.
I would like to thank the IWW – IWOC for referring Free-Lance Journalist John Washington to me. Hopefully we will see a detailed essay in The Nation Magazine which highlights our strength to abolish Prison Slavery.
The Grassroots organizing for the September 9th action is going well. Texas Prisoners are not just suffering from physical enslavement. Many are psychologically enslaved. This makes my job and Rashid’s job of awakening the lumpen difficult but not impossible. Continue reading →
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Did you know that the U.S. Constitution currently allows unpaid slave labor as long as it uses prisoners?
This is not optional work, preferable to inactivity. This is not educational or rehabilitative. This is not a means of making restitution or reconciliation. It’s forced labor, often factory and industrial labor that places prisoners at risk for toxic exposure, physical and neurological degeneration, and cancer-related health problems. Many prisoners view forced, unpaid labor in hazardous conditions as a death sentence, on top of their life sentence.
Our petitions have helped win reforms in prisons before. Now prisoners are protesting this injustice en masse, including going on strike in Texas and Alabama. Let’s find out how much we can all do together:
To: U.S. Senate and House: Revisit the 13th Amendment and propose a new amendment to the Constitution that abolishes free prison labor and applies the federal minimum wage to all labor in the United States and its imperial territories. Learn more and sign here.
To: Texas State Officials: Hundreds of prisoners are at serious risk of being exposed to cancer-causing fumes at the Texas Correctional Industries Metal Fabrication Plant. Provide immediate relief to the affected prisoners and permit an investigation by a body that is not part of the prison administration. Learn more and sign here.
To: Georgia state legislators: A Georgia “life sentence” can, in the minimum case, be completed in 20 years. A young prisoner with such a sentence suffers horribly from not being told any release date. We urge you to change state law with legislation to allow prisoners to be given a definite release date, regardless of life sentences. Sign here.
After signing the petitions, please forward this message to your friends.
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