The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

General Strike in Prisons:
Profiting from Prison Labor

Nov 14, 2016

Following a call for a nationwide strike of prisoners, inmates in at least 29 prisons in 12 states have launched strikes, involving more than 24,000 prisoners. The prisoners are now fighting against awful work conditions in prisons, what they correctly call “modern day slavery.” It is forced labor for little or no pay.

This work is mandatory. If the prisoner refuses to work, he or she can be punished, such as, by solitary confinement or cancellation of visitation rights. Inmates in state and federal prisons do many different types of work, including maintenance, cleaning, kitchen duties, farm work, stuffing shelves in stores and warehouses, and manufacturing license plates, clothing, electronics and army hats, etc.

Some states, including Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia, do not pay inmates for prison labor at all. In other states, the pay to the inmates is usually close to nothing, between 12 and 40 cents an hour.

Some inmates are engaged in work programs, such as the Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (known as UNICOR). The Federal Bureau of Prisons runs UNICOR like a company that supplies cheap labor to U.S. businesses. The government website advertises UNICOR as “Factories with Fences” and boasts that this program is “bringing jobs home.” And with their third-world pay available in the U.S., ranging from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour, UNICOR provides a highly “competitive” labor force. In 2015, UNICOR generated a revenue of over half a billion dollars through the labor of more than 12,000 inmates.

This revenue is the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. incarcerated more than 2.2 million people in federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2013. It is the largest prison population in the world, forming an abundant labor force that can easily generate a revenue of billions of dollars for those who exploit it.

Not only states and the federal government, but also the huge companies like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Whole Foods, MacDonald’s, directly or through their contractors, use this very cheap labor to fill their coffers.

So, in this country that does not provide jobs to young people on the outside, the government has turned people into a captive work force–for the benefit of corporations. Yes, it’s “modern day slavery.”