It's on. The strike by incarcerated workers at an Alabama prison is scheduled to get underway on Monday. The strikers hope the movement will spread. During an interview with Salon, Melvin Ray, in custody at the St. Clair correctional facility explained,
“We decided that the only weapon or strategy … that we have is our labor, because that’s the only reason that we’re here. They’re incarcerating people for the free labor....To grow the movement we have to get them to understand: You’re not giving up anything. You don’t have anything. And you’re going to gain your freedom right here....There is not even the pretense of doing anything about ‘corrections, they’re running a slave empire...If a prison goes down for [only] a week, we may not capture another prison. If a prison goes down for two weeks, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll capture another prison. If a prisoner strike goes down for three weeks…there’s no telling how many prisons might get in...he best-case scenario would be that every prison in the state of Alabama joins the Alabama movement – go on, shut down.”
The movement inside the prison known as the Free Alabama Movement is supported by the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. The IWW was approached by the Free Alabama Movement who were building themselves on the hunger strikes in Pelican Bay and Georgia with the aim of, "building a mass nonviolent movement inside and outside of prisons to earn their freedom, and to end the racist, capitalist system of mass incarceration called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and others."
The IWW writes:
The conditions in Alabama prisons are horrendous, packing twice as many people as are meant to be there, with everything from black mold, brown water, cancer causing foods, and general disrepair. They are also run by free, slave labor, with 10,000 people working to maintain the prisons daily, adding up to $600,000 dollars a day or $219,000,000 a year of slave labor if inmates were paid federal minimum wage, and tens of thousands more receiving mere dollars a day making products sold by the state or to private corporations.
While unique in some ways, the struggle of these brave human beings is the same as prisoners around the country, and the millions of black, brown, and working class women and men struggling to survive a system they are not meant to succeed within. These prisoners need your support, and for you to help spread the struggle.
It's a struggle with a long history. In 1901, the state of Alabama adopted a constitution , by which they created a legal structure, necessary for building an economy with “cheap labor” as its foundation. A good source of the cheap labor Alabama decided it needed after it "lost" it's free slave labor has come from its prison system. Inmate labor saves the state millions of dollars each year, yet the inmates receive no benefit for the labor they provide, almost no pay.
The Free Alabama Movement which is founded as a non violent organization fighting for civil and human rights lists four main issues. These are:
- To put an end to the system of free labor within the Alabama Department of Corrections, as free labor serves no purpose towards rehabilitation and is only a slave-styled system disguised as a system of truth, justice, and punishment for crime. The reality is that free labor of Alabama’s prison system is a continuation of the enslavement and exploitation of black, brown, and poor white people. The name changed, but cheap or free slave labor is still the game.
- To put an end of inhumane living conditions, under which Alabama’s prisoners are forced to live, which stems from Alabama’s choice to warehouse large amounts of people, overpopulating all of its facilities and refusing to put the health of the inmate above cost. These type of living conditions only make incarceration (more) dangerous, and overcrowding contributes to (more) violence, disease outbreaks, and an overall unhealthy living environment. Every aspect of an inmate environment is substandard; from food and water to health care.
- To abolish life without parole sentences and expedite the process of overhauling Alabama’s current parole system; in order to release more deserving people. Life without parole is a cruel sentence which provides the inmate with no incentive to seek rehabilitation.
- To put an end to certain laws targeting certain specific race groups, which is followed by outrageous and arbitrary sentencing. One prime example is Alabama’s drive-by shooting laws, which have been codified in the capital murder statute of 13a-5-40. Studies show that Alabama, with intent, designed these laws for young black males, as when white people have committed the same exact crime, it has been renamed “road rage.” Road rage for one and a full fledged congressional act for the other. Look up Shirley Henson and Phillip Fondren. Read House Joint Resolution 575..
They also make clear what they fighting for:
- We want a state-wide reform in the youthful offender law and the creation of an adult first time offense law.
- We want life-without-parole sentences abolished.
One prisoner involved in the work stoppage and who describes himself as an anarchist writes :
I’m Michael and yes, I’m locked down in one of Amerika’s many prisons in the state of Alabama. But that does not excuse me from the struggle for a better world. And I believe that anarchism is the best alternative to what exists now. I believe this without reservations. Anarchism is not about building state power, but rather, destroying the state and building new humyn relationships based on mutual aid and cooperation and freedom.
Right now there is a struggle going on in Alabama’s prisons demanding a change in the horrendous, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions in the prisons. In the prison I’m at, Holman, birds fly around the kitchen dropping bird shit on prisoners and/or their food, industrial light fixtures are falling from the ceiling injuring at least one prisoner seriously, during the winter months the showers are cold, the dorms are also cold in the winter, inadequate medical care, inadequate outdoors exercise time, inadequate nutrition, harassment of family members during visiting hours, and a host of other serious problems too numerous to list (see Justice or Just Business for more). But most of all, we are fighting and struggling for our dignity and humanity.
Prisoners have very few options against the prison system. We have the options of: (1) filing lawsuits, (2) rioting, (3) hunger strikes, (4) work strikes. These four are the most common practices used by prisoners throughout the world. A work strike is what is going down in Alabama right now. The reason a work strike was chosen is simple. To cause the state to lose the profits it rests in off of prisoners’ labor and to force them into making the changes in the conditions that’s demanded.
In January 2014, prisoners in Alabama staged a work strike demanding changes in the laws, sentencing, and prison conditions. The present work strike is a continuation of the January 2014 work strike.
The Free Alabama Movement and the IWW's Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee ask you to:
- Create an Incarcerated Workers Solidarity Committee in your area to raise money, take action, and spread the word of this struggle, including to local prisons.
- Amplify the voices of incarcerated workers by posting this and future updates to your website, facebook, email lists, and so on
- Join our email list so as to be kept up to date and amplify future updates. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and like us on facebook: www.facebook.com/incarceratedworkers
- Donate money to the Free Alabama Movement & Incarcerated Workers Organizing Cmt: https://fundly.com/iww-incarcerated-workers-organizing-committee-support-the-free-alabama-movement
- Join the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee