The Spark

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

Prison Labor Used to Drive Down Wages

Aug 2, 2021

Executives from Waste Management, a $21 billion company, recently announced that they want to utilize more prison labor. Another company, Russell Stover Chocolates, recently hired prison workers for their two candy plants in Kansas. And the States of Michigan, Delaware, Texas, and Ohio recently announced new work-release programs for the restaurant industry.

These companies are saying that there is labor shortage. But the reality is that companies are looking to prison labor as a way of pushing wages down.

Prison labor is already an essential part of this capitalist economy. There are currently 1.5 million prison laborers. Over 600,000 prisoners work for manufacturing companies. Companies also use prison labor in agriculture, sanitation, food services, hospitality, construction. The average pay of prison workers is $0.63 an hour.

Companies are also using work-release programs to indirectly exploit the prisoners. These prisoners are released under the condition that they keep their job for a certain period.

Companies know these workers are under the constant threat of re-imprisonment if they refuse to work. The bosses use this condition against these workers. Oftentimes, they are hired for the lowest paid and most dangerous jobs. In construction, employers hire these workers in “body shop” sites, where they work in the most backbreaking jobs.

While these companies get thousands of dollars a week in government subsidies for using these work-release programs, the workers themselves typically have to pay a fee just to participate. In El Paso, Texas, these workers pay $22 in daily fees to the Sheriff’s Department just to keep their job. What a racket!

Nothing about this is new. This barbarism has existed as long as society has been divided between the exploiters and the exploited.