Inmates across the nation have been protesting conditions amounting to modern slavery in a massive prison labor strike since last Friday. The September 9 date was chosen in honor of the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison riot of 1971. Prisoners are standing against many of the same issues that sparked the Attica rebellion, including low wages for prison labor used by many major American corporations. The coordinated protests have been endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild.
“This is a call to end slavery in America,” the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee said in a statement. “This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. 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… They cannot run these facilities without us.”
Most prisoners work for less than $1 per hour, and in some states such as Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas, they get no pay at all. The strike by thousands of workers covers 25 states. Prisoners’ complaints include water in state facilities containing arsenic, moldy or spoiled food, guard abuse, and solitary confinement as a form of retaliation. The rise of privatized prisons has emboldened prison laborers, and work stoppages have become more frequent across the country.
Due to restrictions on communications with prisoners, it is reportedly difficult to get a full picture of the size and scope of the labor strikes. It is also reportedly a challenge to verify the stories that are coming out of prisons, and there are instances in which reports from prison officials conflict with those of prisoners.
Mask Magazine and It’s Going Down are attempting to follow the story and provide live accounts of the action. Solidarity activists also are posting reports from inside the prisons to their websites and social media.
“The facilities experiencing full shutdowns that we know about hold approximately 24,000 prisoners. There are probably thousands more who didn’t work that we don’t know about, yet. Many are still are not working today and intend to continue the strike until their demands are satisfied or the prisons break under the economic strain of operating without their slaves,” It’s Going Down reported yesterday.