In prisons across the United States, incarcerated workers toil away in sweatshop conditions for little to no pay. But, on Friday, September 9th, 2016, these prisoners will take action to end their servitude. Prisoners, with support from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), and the Free Alabama Movement, have called for a nationwide work stoppage, and are calling for support from the outside. National SDS supports the September 9th national prisoner strike.
The United States has the highest prison population in the world in terms of raw numbers, and the second highest prison population per capita (both as of 2014). The mass incarceration of people of color has been referred to by some authors, notably Michelle Alexander, as a sort of ‘new Jim Crow,’ echoing the brutal legal codes used as tools of state violence against Black Americans after the supposed end of slavery, post-Civil War. Today, there are more Black people in prison than there were enslaved at the height of slavery. This mass incarceration is only the latest replication of the United States’ original economic model, which began with the enslavement of African peoples, and which has always been reliant upon unpaid labor to generate enormous profits for private corporations such as McDonalds, Whole Foods, Verizon, and J.C. Penny, as well as for the United States government, who has integrated the slave labor of prisoners into their war machine, using prisoners to manufacture supplies for warfare, such as uniforms and helmets. All of this is completely legal; the 13th Amendment does provide an exception to its prohibition on captive labor “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
On September 9th, 1971, prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York state rose up against their captivity. The rebellion cost 33 prisoners their life, but they held the prison as their own for 4 days, while demanding an end to the physical brutality inflicted on them, alongside access to medical care, and improved sanitation of the prison. These same demands are commonplace among prisoners today, and which have been since the institution of prisons. In homage of the inspiring action by the prisoners at Attica, the IWOC has chosen to begin their strike on the 45th anniversary of the revolt.
These prisoners are taking action to end their captivity, through work-stoppages, hunger strikes, and other general disruptions of the prison routine. They are calling for support from the outside to weather the brutal repression they expect in retaliation. So far, solidarity actions have been announced in at least 30 cities, and we in the SDS call on all able organizers to join the struggle for the right of prisoners to unionize, and towards the abolition of slavery and white supremacy, through solidarity actions, prisoner support, and whatever other tactics they see fit.
End Prison Slavery Now!