Prisoners With Jobs
August 17, 2018 9:20 AM   Subscribe

“The prison organizing has coincided with a movement that has taken hold across the country as teachers go on strike and protest slashed education budgets in their states. The hope is that the prisoners may eventually be able to build a coalition with the teachers and potentially even coordinate their strikes.” - LOUISIANA PRISONERS DEMAND AN END TO ‘MODERN-DAY SLAVERY’. Another nationwide Prison Labor strike planned for August 21st.
posted by The Whelk (26 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
For those who may be unaware, IWOC, or the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (second link) is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World, the only union willing to organize prison labor. If you are a member, you can support the strike by buying an IWOC assessment stamp (2$-10$) when you pay your dues.
posted by corb at 9:43 AM on August 17, 2018 [20 favorites]

YES. I was so pleased to see a group that started recently in my city to lobby against our terrible prison system. We must change.
posted by rebent at 10:02 AM on August 17, 2018

I have yet to hear a convincing argument for why paying prisoners absurdly low wages isn't essentially slavery. Yes, I understand that there is that clause in the 13th Amendment that lets us do this but that doesn't make it not slavery. It is. The punishment for being a criminal in the US includes forced labor and yeah we'll pretend to pay you for it in the most insulting way possible.
posted by East14thTaco at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

That's because it absolutely *is* slavery. The folks in favor just think it's justified slavery.

The typical argument is that "we're paying to keep them already, so they ought to do some good, and besides, it's vocational education." This of course ignores that "keeping them" is ridiculously patronizing; most prisoners don't need to be "kept" in the first place. And absent prison-to-work programs, this "vocational education" is useless, because either laws prohibit felons from finding jobs in those occupations, or employers won't hire.

The loophole in the Constitution was almost certainly a concession to the Slave States, and it's no coincidence that people of color make up a disproportionate part of our prison population.
posted by explosion at 10:59 AM on August 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

Hey! I saw a sign about a prisoner strike in a park in Minneapolis yesterday. I don't remember the details but I know there was a part about marching to the prison (not even sure where...) to make noise in solidarity with prisoners. I suspect it is part of this because I think it was August 21 as well.

Any MN folks want to support this, I assume there is info on facebook (I am not on the bad book).

Maybe I'll head back over to the park tonight to provide an update. I realize this is a rather vague post.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:20 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing is, you could find justifications for paying prisoners low wages for, like, growing their own food and things they used to do voluntarily a century ago that benefited themselves -even Gurley Flynn, when in jail for being a communist, supported individual prison gardens. But there is a wide gulf between things like that, and how they treat prisoners now. There is zero justification for paying people insanely low wages to produce products you then sell on the open market - and punishing them when they refuse the devil’s bargain.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also it’s worth noting that people have been severely punished for organizing - IWOC has distributed some phone zaps lately about their organizers being thrown in solitary just for talking to other workers about the strike. The problem is the assumption of entitlement to owning other people’s labor.
posted by corb at 1:00 PM on August 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Question: For $1 an hour, inmates fight California fires. 'Slave labor' or self-improvement?

For two and a half years, I worked as a firefighter and lead engineer at Cal Fire Station 5 in Madera. ... Our training was first rate. We learned everything from CPR to how to use the Jaws of Life. We learned to run hoses off a fire truck, fight vehicle fires and structure fires, and how to cut a car open and pull out a trapped victim. I did things I never could have imagined I could do.

But after my time at Station 5 ended, I couldn’t find another job. That’s because my time at the firehouse was actually the final two-and-a-half years of a seven-year prison sentence....

When I got out, I wanted to put the amazing training I had received to use. But I quickly found that my years of training and experience at Chowchilla couldn’t be used on the outside. Because of my conviction, I was ineligible to work for any municipal firehouse in the Bay Area.
posted by clawsoon at 2:25 PM on August 17, 2018 [10 favorites]

For Bay Area folks (text is from one of my contacts):

"The Bay Area National Prison Strike Solidarity Committee is organizing a Mobilization and Call to Action, on August 25, 2018, at San Quentin State Prison, with the objective of raising awareness of the inhumane conditions, treatment and policies that afflict those held in these facilities nationwide.

Our Call to Action / Mobilization will rally at the West Oakland Bart Station at 11:00 AM, from there we will a carpool and bus to San Quentin State Prison. We need to raise money for the round-trip bus ride to San Quentin. Even if more people could carpool, there is very limited parking there, so we are encouraging most people to ride the bus with us.

The Bay Area National Prison Strike Solidarity Committee, stands in solidarity with the people who have declared a Nationwide Prison Strike beginning on August 21st (This date commemorates the assassination of Black Panther Party, Field Marshall, and prison activist, George Jackson, by San Quentin prison guards) and extending to September 9th, 2018. The National Prison Strike is in response to the “riot” in the Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina on April 15, 2018. . Seven prisoners lost their lives during an instigated melee that could have been avoided had the prison not been overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in this country’s penal ideology. We support these captives behind enemy lines, demand for humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.

We are also mobilizing to let these sisters and brothers being held behind enemy lines know that we on the outside have their backs and that we support their Demands and the ongoing historic prison movement led and organized by those being held captive in amerikkka’s gulags.

[snipped the 10-point list of National Demands, since the "Another Nationwide Prison Strike" link in the OP lists them]



Black August Organizing Committee - Oakland
Poor Magazine - Oakland
IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee) - Oakland
California Prison Focus - Oakland
Worker World Party - Oakland
Idriss Stelly Foundation - San Francisco
Democratic Socialist of America - San Francisco Justice Committee
National Brown Berets
Aztlan Press – San Jose
The Mothers On The March Against Police Murders - San Francisco
Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP) - Oakland
Black & Brown for Justice, Peace and Equality - San Francisco
MLK Coalition For Jobs, Justice and Peace/ MLK Coalition of Greater LA
Puerto Rican Alliance - Los Angeles
Aztlan Realism Conecta - San Jose"
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:34 PM on August 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

clawsoon: "Because of my conviction, I was ineligible to work for any municipal firehouse in the Bay Area."

Is this just a way it is thing or are their laws against firefighters having a felony conviction?
posted by Mitheral at 8:11 PM on August 17, 2018

The actual text of the Thirteenth Amendment:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
(emphasis mine)

This is not a "loophole". The US Constitution literally never abolished slavery. It literally said slavery is a valid punishment for any crime. This is not hyperbole, or allegory, or an abstract political posture. This is literally what the clause planned for.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:26 AM on August 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

let's talk about the Russian Revolution for a second. I swear it relates.

So because their theoretical grounding was in Marxism, the Russian Revolution is remembered as a worker revolution. But really, it was a worker and soldier revolution; it only went off because great masses of men slated to be shipped off to die meaninglessly at the meatgrinder front realized (with the help of Bolshevik agitation) that their only chance was to turn around and point their guns at the real enemy. The full name for the Petrograd Soviet that led the revolution was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' deputies.

So here's your recipe for a revolution: masses of disaffected working-class people, organized by skilled agitators, supplemented by a great mass of folks who know for a fact that they are beyond fucked unless a revolution happens.

The United States is a carceral state; whereas the average number of prisoners per capital worldwide is about 150 per 100,000, the United States has about 750 per 100,000. This is, needless to say, the legacy of racist colonialist slaveocracy; the power of southern slaveholders never went away, they just relocated their victims from the plantation to the vast meatgrinder of the American prison system.

Hypothesis: If the revolution comes to America, it'll start as a prison riot. That's why the state is so fanatical about stamping out prisoner organizing. That's why the state encourages the creation of racialized prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and MS-13, organizations that redirect prisoner discontent toward each other and away from their enemy. It's because the state recognizes politically aware, organized prisoners as a genuine threat to the capitalist order.

> For those who may be unaware, IWOC, or the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (second link) is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World, the only union willing to organize prison labor. If you are a member, you can support the strike by buying an IWOC assessment stamp (2$-10$) when you pay your dues.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:45 AM on August 18, 2018 [9 favorites]

Would it be better to give directly to the IWOC or to sponsor the union dues for an incarnated worker for a year?
posted by The Whelk at 8:03 AM on August 18, 2018

We are voting at convention in two weeks to waive all IWOC dues, I expect it to pass, it has before, so better to give directly to IWOC.
posted by corb at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

posted by The Whelk at 10:48 AM on August 18, 2018

Is this just a way it is thing or are their laws against firefighters having a felony conviction?
It's not always an intentional discrimination against people with criminal histories, but "passivity and unintentionality," Katcher says. To become a firefighter, most departments require an EMT license, but EMT certifying boards have a pattern of denying applicants with a criminal history. Defenders of licensing regimes say they help screen out incompetent or poorly skilled potential employees and ensure minimum skill standards.
It seems like there isn't a specific law or policy that says that people with felony convictions cannot get EMT certifications under any circumstances or that fire departments can't hire people with felony convictions on their record but that in practice most people with felony convictions on their record will be disqualified from being able to take the certification courses because of that reason.
The NREMT has a comprehensive policy on people with criminal convictions who wish to enter the certification process. The certification board will investigate, and potentially deny the ability to sit for the certification exam, to those who have a felony conviction of any type, as well as those who have been convicted of any category of crime (felony or misdemeanor) involving: Use of a dangerous weapon, Physical assault, Abuse of children, the infirm, or elderly, Property crimes, including felony theft, robbery or burglary, Sexual abuse or assault.

As with state regulatory boards, the NREMT may consider several factors when deciding to allow someone with a criminal history to enter the certification process. These factors include the severity of the crime, the amount of time that has passed between the incident and the application and whether the nature of the crime has any bearing on one's duties as an EMT.
Which is on it's own a defensible policy—the certification board should be able to look at a person's history to determine whether they can be trusted in these roles. The problem is not that the certifying boards can refuse to allow people with convictions to get certified at their discretion but the way that that 'discretion' is applied since there seems to be a tendency to hold people with prior convictions to a very high standard and to deny by default.

The hypocrisy is that the state trusts these folks to administer CPR, first aid, use the jaws of life, and do many other things that are equivalent to things done by those with the EMT certification while they are incarcerated but once they have finished their term the conviction is disqualifying. My take is that if the state wants people to be doing work that requires a certification then the state needs to grant EMT certifications to the inmates doing this work which can then be renewed and carried over once they are out. Also, the inmates doing this work should be paid a real wage reflecting the difficult, dangerous, certification-requiring work that it is, that wage shouldn't be eaten up by exploitative commissary costs, and conditions in the prison should be improved to 'less awful than fighting wildfires' so that the choice to take this work is less coercive. I've heard that many opt for firefighting duty because the visitation policies in the field are more relaxed which seems like a very exploitative tactic, asking inmates to risk their lives doing this dangerous work in order to have better access to see and interact with their families.
posted by metaphorever at 2:22 PM on August 18, 2018 [14 favorites]

To really take it all in you have to consider the compulsory work for a miniscule wage in context with 'sploit pricing for telephone, email and commissary goods.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:38 PM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The word "strike" does not appear in this story about how Texas will reduce phone rates from 26 cents per minute to 6, so I'm sure that Texas just did it out of the goodness of their hearts.
posted by Etrigan at 10:00 PM on August 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

10 days later, an update
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Week three update.

One excerpt
IWOC was forwarded a message dated 8/23 from inside administrative segregation, (solitary) of a Texas gulf prison confirming that 2 people are on hunger strike in solidarity with the national action: "I feel great. But very hungry! And not because I don't have food but because of our 48 hours solidarity with our brothers and sisters. It's the only way we can show support from inside of Seg. Let everyone know we got their backs."

Every time I think of our fellow workers efforts, I am reminded of a song by David Rovics, sometime IWW bard.

Each time Khader Adnan was arrested
In prison he would learn a little more
And soon he became the teacher
And he'd talk about the times that came before
They talked about civil disobedience
They talked about the ballot and the gun
They talked about the Occupied Six Counties
And the H Blocks in 1981

posted by AnhydrousLove at 3:32 AM on September 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

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