New US Prison Strike Takes us to the Dark Heart of Capitalism

New US Prison Strike Takes us to the Dark Heart of Capitalism

Prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, and the corporate beneficiaries of this slave labour include some of the largest corporations and most widely known brands. There are literally hundreds of corporations and firms that exploit prison labour.

One year ago the largest prison labour strike in US history took place. More than 24,000 prisoners across 29 prisons in 12 states protested against exploitation and inhumane conditions. It was timed to mark the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising1 of 46 years ago over prisoners' demands for better living conditions and political rights. Attica prisoners rioted and took control of the prison, taking 42 staff hostage. When the uprising was over, at least 43 people were dead, including ten prison staff, and 33 inmates.2

One year on, another major prison strike is now spreading across the US and Canada which has entered into its second week. The strike began on August 21 and is set to last a total of 19 days. Naturally, it has been subjected to a media blackout by the mainstream media in the US; and reliable information about the progress of the strike is difficult to come by.

Prison reform advocacy groups liaising with strike organisers, have reported that protests had been confirmed in three states, with further unconfirmed reports emerging from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina as well as Washington State and up to Nova Scotia in Canada.

One of the intentions of the prisoners in the current dispute is to bring to public attention the spate of deaths in custody, which in some states has reached epidemic proportions. In Mississippi, 10 inmates3 have died in their cells in the past three weeks alone, with no firm indication of the cause of their deaths.

In addition to concern over unexplained deaths of prison inmates, the strikers, led by a network of incarcerated activists who call themselves Jailhouse Lawyers Speak4, have put out a set of 10 demands5 to reform the US’s penal system, including more investment in rehabilitation services and better medical treatment for mentally-ill prisoners. High up on the list is an end to forced or underpaid labour that the protesters call a form of modern slavery.

Among the main tactics that are being deployed in the strike are a refusal to work, a boycott of purchases at prison commissaries, sit-ins and hunger strikes.

Filling the Prisons

In 2016 there were 2.29 million people in US prisons which is equivalent to 716 per 100 000 of the population. This is one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. (In England and Wales the equivalent number is 144 per 100 000 of the population.) The vast majority of prisoners in the US are working class, and a disproportionate number of them are African-Americans and Hispanics. In states like Virginia and Oklahoma one in every 15 African American men6 is put in prison. This is no accident since these groups predominantly come from some of the most deprived parts of towns and cities in the US. It is also no accident that the US bourgeoisie has been deliberately targeting these groups by passing draconian sentences on them in order to fill up the prisons. This policy accelerated in 1994 with the introduction of the “three-strikes law.”7 These laws require a person guilty of committing both a severe violent felony and two other previous convictions to serve a mandatory life sentence in prison. In California, these convictions can even be minor and a prisoner is sentenced for life.

In this way, the US has been able to readily fill up its prisons with cheap labour and keep them filled. For example, from 1982 to 2000, California's prison population increased 500%. To accommodate this population growth, the state of California built 23 new prisons at a cost of $280 million to $350 million apiece.8 California is by no means unique in showing such a phenomenal growth in prisons and prison populations. While California’s prisons are public and are financed by the Public Works Department and operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; many other states encourage the building of private prisons. New Mexico incarcerates over 40% of its prison population in private facilities. Private prisons in the US incarcerated 128,063 people in 2016, representing 8.5% of the total state and federal prison population. Since 2000, the number of prisoners in private prisons has increased 47%.9

The United States Congress, influenced by enormous corporate lobbying, enacted the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Programme10 in 1979, which permitted US companies to use prison labour. Coupled with the drastic increase in the prison population during this period, and particularly after 1994, profits for participating companies and revenue for the government and its private contractors soared. The Federal Bureau of Prisons now runs a programme called Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR)11 that pays inmates under one dollar an hour. The programme generated $500m in sales in 2016 with very little of that cash being passed down to prison workers. California's prison labour programme produced some $232m in sales in 2017. Prison labour in the US is referred to as insourcing. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), employers receive a tax credit of $2,400 for every work-release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups.”

Your Favourite Brands

Prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, and the corporate beneficiaries of this slave labour include some of the largest corporations and most widely known brands. There are literally hundreds of corporations and firms that exploit prison labour. According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, war supplies and other equipment.

Prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armour; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Aeroplane parts, medical supplies and much more: prisoners are even raising guide dogs for blind people. While prison workers are generating huge amounts of surplus value, they only receive between 90 cents to $4 a day depending on the prison factory they are incarcerated in. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour which means prison labour is paid between 1/15th and 1/65th of the minimum wage. Below is a review of just some of the biggest US corporations that take advantage of this:

UNICOR manages 83 factories and more than 12,000 prison labourers who earn as little as 23 cents an hour working at call centres, manufacturing items such as military body armour. In 2013, federal inmates made $100m worth of military uniforms. UNICOR has also provided prison labour in the past to produce Patriot missile parts for defence contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and parts for others such as Boeing and General Dynamics.

Since 2011, Whole Foods has benefited from prison labour. This company, acquired by Amazon in 2016, purchases food from Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and Quixotic Farming, two private vendors that use cheap prison labour to raise fish, produce milk and herd goats.

Walmart, one of the biggest retailers in the US uses prison inmates for manufacturing purposes. The company “hires” inmates to clean products of UPC bar codes so that products can be resold. The company has purchased produce from farms, where women prisoners face bad working conditions, inadequate medical care and very low pay. And Starbucks uses prison labour to cut costs as well. Starbucks’ subcontractor Signature Packaging Solutions hired Washington state prisoners to package holiday coffees.

McDonald’s uses prison labour to produce frozen foods and process beef for patties. Workers flipping burgers and frying French fries for minimum wage at McDonald's restaurants wear uniforms that were manufactured by prison labourers. Prisoners also process bread, milk and chicken products for McDonald’s. McDonald’s rival Wendy’s has also been identified as relying on prison labour to reduce its cost of operations.

Sprint, the telecoms company uses prison inmates to provide telecommunication services by using them in call centres and Verizon, another telecoms company, does the same thing. While American Airlines and the car rental company Avis use inmates to take reservations.

Victoria’s Secret uses prison labour to cut production costs. In South Carolina, female inmates were used to sew products. Prison workers reportedly have also been used to replace “made in” tags with “Made in USA” tags! While, Kmart and J.C. Penney both sell jeans made by inmates in Tennessee prisons.

Some proportion of pension and other investments owned by the US public are invested by Fidelity Investments in prison labour or in other operations related to the prison industrial complex. The investment firm funds the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has created laws authorizing and increasing the use of prison inmates in manufacturing.

Making America Great Again

One way of trying to “make America great again” has been to ensure wages are suppressed in the US to the point where production becomes profitable again for the US bourgeoisie. Median real wage growth in the US was stagnating before the global financial crisis but has gone down even more since then, so that average wages in the US are lower than they were ten years ago. Prison labour has been an important source of very cheap labour and a means of suppressing wages. Prisoners are not only cheap labour, they are also easier to control. Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick pay. They don’t need to worry about demands for paid leave, wage rises or family issues. In principle use of prison labour is not very different from Stalin’s gulags. Of course, this cannot be admitted because the US pretends it is the great defender of human rights, American values and so on. The Federal Prisons Industry Inc. actually advertises its services as “bringing jobs back to America” with long lists of services the prisoners can perform which can feed into other US industries. They do not say they are bringing the jobs back for US prisoners and so reducing wages of “free” workers.12

It comes as no surprise that “making America great again” also involves the use of foreign prison labour in countries where conditions are even worse than in the US prisons. China uses prison labour to make commodities a lot of which are directly exported to the US or form parts of products exported to the US. According to research by the Financial Times, China, which has a prison population of 2.3 million, virtually the same as the US, is using prison labour to offset the reduced profitability of its manufactures caused by rising wages. This is more or less what the Federal Prisons Industry is arguing for its services in the US. Agricultural products such as garlic, consumption products such as handbags and assembly of wiring for industrial products are examples of the type of work carried out by Chinese prisoners. Although the US tries to disguise the fact that the work of prison labour is imported into the US this often cannot be concealed. A woman in Arizona, for example, found a note, written in Chinese, hidden in a handbag she bought from Walmart saying:

“Prisoners in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi are working 14 hours every day. Whoever does not finish his work will be beaten…being a prisoner in China is worse than being a dog in the US”

The prisoner obviously realised his work was going to the US but clearly has no idea that US prisoners are in a similar condition. Another prisoner who had been in Tonghua prison in Jilin province told the FT:

“We often needed to work from five in the morning to nine at night so the prison is able to make more money.”

A spokesman for China Labour Watch Mr Li states that in China:

“Prisons are run like companies, with their own sales teams.”13

This is exactly how US prisons are being run as shown by the Federal Prisons Industries website mentioned above.

But what lies behind the increased exploitation of the US and world labour force is the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Increasing the rate of exploitation, reductions in working benefits, reducing pensions, as well as simple wage cuts are all ways to offset the tendency of the rate of profit to fall in an attempt to make production profitable again. Of course the phenomenon of falling profit rates is not just a US one and the capitalist crisis is hitting the US’ rivals equally hard. The financial crash in 2008 was an indirect product of the fall in the rate of profit because firms have been reducing investment in production, because it is simply not profitable enough, and have been investing in speculation instead. And ten years since the last financial crash the global capitalist system now has ten times the debt it had when the system last collapsed to the tune of some $250 trillion!

The Trump administration clearly thinks continuing the exploitation of prison slave labour is the way to go. It has decided to reverse the Obama-era plan to phase out private prisons and enact new law-and-order policies to increase arrests and keep the prisons filled. This is an acknowledgement that in order to try to maintain profits the working class must be exploited even more ruthlessly. It will also increase opportunities for the US government’s corporate donors and lobbyists to profit from their many investments in mass incarceration.

In recent years there have been leftist campaigns to reform the prison system and end prison labour. But this is similar to other reformist campaigns such as calls to restore social housing. It is simply never going to happen under a capitalism that is now in its fifth decade of open crisis. Despite the assurances of left politicians like Bernie Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK that capitalism can be reformed, the system simply cannot afford to make any concessions. Sanders’ and Corbyn’s election promises will never be kept. There will be no free education in the US, just as there will be no scrapping of student debt in the UK, to take just a couple of examples.

Capitalism is in an advanced stage of its crisis. Short of a massive devaluation and destruction of capital, which has come about in the past through imperialist world war, the only other course open to it is ruthless exploitation of the working class. This means real cuts in wages, increases in the rate of exploitation, reductions in pension provision, cuts in social benefits, housing and healthcare, etc.

The only way the US and world working class can find a way out of their daily exploitation and, at the same time get rid of prison factories, is to put an end to wage labour, commodity production and the law of value. We can replace this rotten system, which cares only about profits with a world of “freely associated producers”. We need to recognise that capitalism is long past its sell by date. Let’s get rid of it and scrap the wages system at the same time!

ERGOSUM
29 August 2018

Comments

R Totale
Sep 3 2018 21:26

More information about how people can actively support the strike here: https://incarceratedworkers.org/campaigns/prison-strike-2018

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 14 2018 17:51

Prison labor is a US$1 billion industry.... in a country with a $18 trillion economy.

There are 2 million prisoners on any given day in America, a country with a total workforce of 160 million and roughly 20 million unemployed.

A majority of those 2 million prisoners are pretrial detainees and/or immigrant detainees awaiting deportation - as a rule, those prisoners do not work in prison industry

Of the less than 1 million prisoners who are convicted felons (sentenced to more than one year in prison) most of them either don't work at all, or work in prison service jobs (mopping floors, working in the infirmary, cooking in the mess hall, repairing Department of Corrections vehicles, etc)

Prisoners employed by private industry are a tiny fraction of American prisoners and a negligible minor factor in the American economy

Is the existence of chain gang labor wrong?

Yes

Is it a major issue in the contemporary American class struggle?

No

Khawaga
Oct 14 2018 22:17

Way to dismiss the organizing efforts of the working class. But then again, Gregory is a person who honestly believes that the car gave the US working class enormous freedom...

Mike Harman
Oct 15 2018 15:42

Gregory A. Butler's comment is also wrong about some basic facts of prison labour.

Immigrants awaiting deportation are often forced to work: https://www.thenation.com/article/ices-captive-immigrant-labor-force/

While the distinction between private and public capital is itself erroneous, a prisoner working internally in the private prison system is 'working for private capital' and a lot of US prisons are private.

One example of the silliness of differentiating between 'internal' work in the prison for 'public capital' and 'commercial' work for outside 'private capital' is when prisoners were employed by an arms manufacturer to produce helmets for the US army. http://uk.businessinsider.com/prisoners-made-helmets-for-the-us-military-and-they-were-defective-2016-8

Black Badger
Oct 16 2018 03:02

while probably something of an anomaly and probably not that significant in the overall economic situation of the county in California where this happened, it is nevertheless a real experience. last spring i did 90 days in the county jail. after the initial 24-hour limbo, i (along with virtually everyone who was able-bodied) was assigned to the "kitchen pod"; the two options were kitchen or laundry. the laundry in jail is done by the prisoners for the entire jail, but it is also a laundry for several county-related or county-run operations (like the county hospital and the county psychiatric hospital). the kitchen (it hardly qualifies as one since the bulk of the work done there has nothing to do with cooking, but rather transferring recently thawed or still-frozen goop into trays) prepares meals for the jail, but also for virtually every county jail and juvenile facility in northern california. both the laundry and the food preparation are contracted to this company:
https://www.aramark.com
some folks might recognize the name. at a previous job, laundering the uniforms of the kitchen workers (real kitchen in a real food store) was contracted out to them. they provide the food preparation and laundry services for many sports arenas.

anyway, back to the jail... being assigned to the kitchen or laundry is not optional. refusing to work is an automatic addition of 30 days, and if you refuse again it's an additional 60. so it's compulsory. and very unlike people who work in prison industries (state and federal as well as private), those of us in this county jail received no pay. not even the perfunctory 15 cents per hour of some places. last time i checked, compulsory unremunerated labor is called slavery. in addition, having worked in the food industry several times over the past 30 years, i can say unequivocally that the kitchen at the jail would not have passed the minimal requirements of a food safety inspection. birds and rodents have free range, and being sick doesn't excuse any prisoners from working, and so contributed to the spreading of germs as well as the occasional bodily fluid. it's no wonder that the guys in jail called the meal trays "two scoops of disrespect."

R Totale
Oct 16 2018 18:21

Yeah, a few points on this - the first is that libcom has loads of content about, say, struggles by teachers, cleaners, food delivery workers and so on, and no-one feels the need to jump in with statistics proving that, say, the vast majority of the working class aren't cleaners and most cleaners don't work in hotels, so struggles among hotel cleaners are pretty insignificant overall.
The second is that the distinction between prisoners who work in private industry and ones who just "work in prison service jobs" seems pretty irrelevant - after all, if, say, the education system found a way to get all cafeteria, cleaning, and maintenance work done for free, or for sub-sub-minimum wage levels, that would have a pretty significant effect on its budget. More to the point, if that system was used to having all those jobs done for free, or for 15 cents an hour, and then workers started organising to challenge that, that would have some pretty major impacts on the sustainability of the education system's budget, and so state budgets in general.

Mike Harman
Oct 17 2018 14:09
Quote:
after all, if, say, the education system found a way to get all cafeteria, cleaning, and maintenance work done for free, or for sub-sub-minimum wage levels, that would have a pretty significant effect on its budget.

Like this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv4oNvxCY5k

They're paying teachers for this time to supervise the kids, so it's not exactly free, but it probably does result in less total cleaning and cafeteria staff than in an equivalent British or US school.

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 25 2018 00:48

Nice ad hominem

For what it's worth, mass ownership of private cars did play a major role in destroying the company town system in Appalachia

I'm all for working class organizing - except prisoners aren't workers.

If you want to get all fancy and Marxist, they're lumpenproletarians

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 25 2018 00:55

If you read the article you quoted, the author refers to immigrant detainees working in the commissary, laundry and mopping floors - in other words, doing service work around the prison.

That's pretty standard in prison systems around the world, and is not the same thing as prisoners working in industry that competes with free labor

Yes, there are examples of prisoners working in material production - but they are few and far between. One of the reasons for that is the fact that most prisoners are unskilled workers, often with minimal experience of employment and little incentive to be productive - the example you cited with the defective prisoner made helmets proves my point

The bottom line is, as I pointed out above, most prisoners do not work, and the small portion of them that do are employed in carrying out service tasks around the prison - cooking, cleaning, serving as orderlies in the prison hospital, etc

Also, as I pointed out above, most American prisons are run by the armed forces, civilian federal agencies, states, local governments and Native American tribes - outside of immigrant detention, the vast majority of prisoners are detained in government-run facilities

R Totale
Oct 25 2018 17:58

Do you think that all workers who do maintenance, cleaning or food production work are irrelevant to the class struggle, or is it just ones who are forced to do it for free/sub-minimum wages?

Are these people workers, or just lumpenproletarians? I mean, they do work in a canteen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-45746022

Black Badger
Oct 25 2018 22:19

This claim that prisoners aren’t real workers led to a lot of heated debate in the IWW in the 80s, almost fomenting a split. The membership finally came around to understanding that the issue is labor (time and energy) rather than who’s the boss or whether the particular industry is pivotal or the vulgar Marxist reductionist perspective on the class status of prisoners...

Khawaga
Oct 26 2018 14:14

Yet more nonsense from Gregory, this time drawing a line between who is a real worker or not. Typical 50s style rhetoric. Get with the fucking times.

edit: Gregory even draws the line based on "material" production and whether it is state or not. That's even more nonsensical.

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 30 2018 23:28

Yes, WORKERS who do maintenance work, cleaning and food production are a critical part of the working class and not just because they are about a third of the working class in the US these days

The key word being WORKERS

The only workers in prisons are the corrections officers

The inmates are - to use the technical Marxist term - lumpenproletarians - a declassed element that preys on the working class

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 30 2018 23:29

Karl Marx would be surprised to be called a "vulgar Marxist" - he was pretty clear on the social role of the lumpens in class society

So yeah... convicts and criminals are not part of the working class

Khawaga
Oct 30 2018 23:38

Why am I not surprised that you distinguish between "real proper workers" and the "working class"? Again, get with the fucking times. Technically, the unemployed is not part of the working class either if you want to really be an orthodox Marxist, part of that same lumpen category depending on how long they have been unemployed. But go on to live in the past, as you've proven over and over again.

Gregory A. Butler
Oct 30 2018 23:39

the line is pretty clear - and criminals (who for the most part prey on the working class) are on the other side of it.

Prisoners who do work around the prison as part of their sentence are not part of the working class - they're lumpenproletarians (that's how they ended up in prison in the first place, for the crimes they did in the free world..crimes which, by and large, had working class victims, with the most marginal and oppressed workers being the most likely to be victims of these criminals)

Black Badger
Oct 30 2018 23:44

JFC, do you even know how the criminal justice system operates? you're presuming that everyone arrested and sentenced for some crime (determined by the ruling class) is guilty of some anti-social act. read a fucking book...

so did I regain my class position as "worker" on the day I was released? or am I destined to be a "lumpenproletarian" starting from the last time I got arrested? since I'm on probation, that means I'm still a criminal in the eyes of the state, so what about your non-vulgar Marxist cosmos? do you use the same criteria as the ruling class?

R Totale
Oct 31 2018 13:58

What about people held in jails who haven't been convicted of anything but can't make bail? Or those in immigration detention? Or indeed in federal prison for immigration offences? Trying to copypaste relevant bits on phone is a pain, but this is worth a read: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/05/20/sending-even-more-immigrants-to-prison

Mike Harman
Oct 31 2018 14:32

Also Gregory is wrong about the lumpenproletariat. Marx did not define it properly as a distinct social class, he used it more (and very inconsistently) as a way to group the unemployed, criminals, and various types of informal employment.

From the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:

On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpen proletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole. Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni,[105] pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème;

There were several thousand of porters working in London at the turn of the 19th Century, working long hours doing heavy manual labour - but as day-labourers and not in factories:

The Street Porters waited to be hired at 100 or so official stands placed around the City, and they charged up to five shillings a day, a good sum for a manual labourer.

http://zythophile.co.uk/2007/11/02/the-forgotten-story-of-londons-porters/

Also very telling that you define prisoners as 'criminals' - are they committing crimes in prison then? If someone is convicted of a crime, pays a fine, then goes back to work immediately afterwards, are they criminals or workers?

Black Badger
Oct 31 2018 15:01

that's why I opted to use the term "vulgar Marxist"...

Lucky Black Cat
Nov 1 2018 00:53
R Totale wrote:
What about people held in jails who haven't been convicted of anything but can't make bail? Or those in immigration detention? Or indeed in federal prison for immigration offences?

^This.

Plus all the people incarcerated for drug offenses, which is a big portion of prisoners. People who see nothing wrong with bartenders for some reason think drug dealers should be locked away... boggles my mind.

Many, many prisoners committed victimless crimes. And besides, even for the people in prison for the worst crimes, that doesn't make it ok to subject them to conditions that amount to mental torture, or for their work experience to be not much better than slavery. This kind of degrading, oppressive, abusive treatment is the type of thing that fosters violent, anti-social behavior in the first place. And when we decide not to care about the suffering of others, telling ourselves that because of the bad things they did they don't deserve any better, we become a little more like the people who we condemn.

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 4 2018 07:34

There's a big difference between a long term unemployed person who is doing no harm to their fellow workers and somebody who's engaging in criminal activity against working class people.

If you're actively preying on your fellow workers - by robbing them, or breaking into their homes, or selling drugs to them, or raping them, you aren't part of the working class. The same applies if you are in prison for those activities against the working class

The vast majority of crime victims are poor and working class people - with women, Blacks, Latinos and immigrants disproportionately likely to be crime victims. So you might want to focus your feelings of solidarity accordingly

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 4 2018 07:46

Actually, I have read books on the subject of crime (and not just The New Jim Crow)... but I was quite familiar with it without the required reading

I'm African American and - thanks to institutional racism and the economic discrimination that's an integral part of it - I actually do have friends and relatives who've been arrested and/or have engaged in criminal activity - thanks for the lecture tho.

I also know a lot of crime victims, including close friends and relatives and have been a crime victim myself - also an effect of institutional racism (when your community has concentrated poverty and unemployment, you're going to have higher crime rates and are going to be more likely than others to experience criminal activity)

If you ask criminologists - or criminals, or police officers, or legal aid attorneys or prosecutors, or anybody who spends a lot of time around criminals - they'll tell you that the vast majority of crimes go unreported and most criminals have committed lots of crimes other than the ones they may have been convicted for

Also - at least here in the US - you don't get arrested, charged or indicted, let alone convicted, unless there's a whole lot of evidence that says you actually committed the crime you did

Lots of convicts here in the US who can claim that lack of education, or mental health care, or employment opportunities had something to do with their descent into being a lumpen and engaging in crime... not a whole lot of innocent people in our prison system. America just does a better job of jailing criminals than other countries do, so we have more of them locked up

Regarding class position, yes, it is flexible so yes, your class position does change over time - so if you were a convict last week, but you made parole and were able to get a job right away, yes you have ceased to be a lumpen and are now a worker.

You might still have the lumpen attitudes you picked up as a criminal... but you're officially part of the working class again - and if you won the lottery the day after that, quit your job and opened a large business, you'd have changed your class position again and would now be part of the bourgeoisie

That's how "relationship to the forces of production" works - you can, and people do, change class position as their relationship to the forces of production changes

Also.. exactly what crime did you commit that led you to being on probation?

Did you steal because you were broke or had an expensive drug addiction to feed?

Were you a sex offender who preyed on women or kids because you enjoyed it?

Or were you part of a criminal gang that sold illegal drugs?

Or are you going to insult our intelligence and claim that you were "innocent" and it was a "frame up"?

What you did to get yourself arrested is relevant here

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 4 2018 07:54

"Haven't been convicted of anything" =/= innocent

It literally just means that your case hasn't made it's way all the way through the system yet.

Just because a criminal hasn't yet been convicted doesn't mean that they aren't a criminal

Immigration detainees are a special case since they aren't actually criminals, generally speaking - they aren't burglars or rapists or dope dealers - they just violated the section of the US federal civil code that governs immigration laws and are being held pending deportation (a process that takes a long time due to the requirements of American immigration laws - there is a long judicial process that has to happen for them to get officially ordered by a judge to be deported, the deportee then has to get travel documents from their country of origin prior to being deported - which can be a problem if the US doesn't have an agreement with that country that governs deportation of it's nationals from our country to theirs - and deportations can be and often are delayed by the lengthy appeals process that immigrants have a right to initiate prior to deportation)

Most immigrants aren't in the regular prison system - Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol have their own detention facilities, and they also have private contractors that they hire to operate private detention facilities for immigrants (the vast majority of private prison inmates in the US are immigrant detainees)

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 4 2018 08:02

That was the lumpenproletariat in mid 19th century France - 21s century America's lumpenproletariat are a little different

Porters (we have them in 21st century New York City too) are, obviously wage workers and a part of the working class - being paid to push a cart of goods through the street is very different than making your living by stealing old ladies purses or robbing liquor stores. Not even sure why you brought them up

People do commit crimes in prison all the time - lots of rapists who can't get at women cause they're locked up end up raping male inmates who they perceive as weaker than them and/or gay, lots of thieves end up robbing their fellow inmates, and prison extortion and protection rackets are very common.

That's why American prisons have an elaborate internal court system, and they have corrections officers who are detailed as investigators who spend all of their time investigating crimes that are committed in prison by prisoners.

Do you not know anything about actual prison conditions or how the criminal life works?

In any case, you guys seem very invested in defending lumpens who prey on the working class - why is that?

fingers malone
Nov 4 2018 08:13

Jesus Christ, people are not doing that, there are a) loads of people who prey on the working class who never go to jail and b) loads of people who are in jail who didn't prey on the working class.

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 4 2018 08:30

"Victimless crimes"?

About 75% of American prison inmates are locked up because of violent crimes - murder, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, armed robbery, theft etc.

Illegal drug trafficking typically involves lots of violent crimes as well - lots of people get murdered by drug traffickers, lots of drug addicts end up stealing or robbing to fund their drug habits and that often leads to assaults and homicides

So no, your neighborhood bartender is not the moral equivalent to a soldier in a drug cartel

Re "mental torture"... I know lots of people who've done time in the US - my current roommate, my former roommate, a whole lot of former coworkers (I worked in construction for many years - the industry doesn't do background checks and is built on casual labor employment so lots of ex cons end up in the trades - even some of the bosses in construction have done time), friends, neighbors etc

Never really heard them describe prison as "mental torture"

One of my neighbors who did a bid for narcotics conspiracy described prison as really boring - he had a cellmate who was really dumb and a real chatterbox so he spent hours and hours having to have really inane conversations with this guy - after 3 years that got really old

My current roommate talked about learning how to cook while he was in juvenile detention for burglary - they did a good job teaching him, he makes an excellent beef stew among other dishes thanks to what he learned in the mess hall

A former coworker - his sentence was for drug dealing - talked about getting in lots of fights in prison... which isn't surprising, since he's kind of a smartass and I could see how that would get on people's nerves when held in close quarters with somebody all day every day

I also had several coworkers who did time for various things (burglary, theft, drug dealing, ect) who are very macho on the street, but got to experiment with their bisexuality in a way socially acceptable with their peers while in prison (where gender roles are a whole lot laxer than they are than in the free world) -

And I could go on - but none of that sounds like torture to me

It just sounds really boring and understimulating ...but then again, the people who that happened to ended up in prison for doing things they weren't supposed to do in the first place, so it balances out

Re "slavery" - when a prison gives an opportunity for a lumpen to learn a trade and actually be employable when they get out of prison.... that's not a bad thing. It's actually a good thing

If prison teaches a lumpen soft skills like how to get up on time in the morning to go to work, or how to follow instructions once at work, that's good. Even better if they actually learn a marketable skill - like how to cook, or how to fix a car, or how to be a housepainter, or how to operate metalworking machinery (lots of American prisons literally make license plates for the Department of Motor Vehicles) - that's not "slavery" that's vocational training (something a lot of street guys badly need, so they can get a legit job and won't go back to prison)

Re "degrading, oppressive abusive treatment"... actually the degrading, oppressive abusive treatment that criminals inflict on ordinary poor and working people - in particular women and minorities - is a whole hell of a lot higher on my list of priorities than prisoners not liking being locked up

If you don't like prison life....don't be a criminal and you won't have to worry about it

All the people I mentioned above who did time?

All of them only did time ONCE

They didn't like prison...so they decided to straighten up and fly right, to live a decent working life and not commit crimes so they'd never have to get locked up again

For those who choose to be hardheaded... well, their actions have consequences, and it's their problem, not mine, or yours, or the working class' problem

Tom Henry
Nov 4 2018 10:42

Far out, Brussels sprouts.

The discussion here is an example of why much discussion on Libcom, particularly from the admins, or those close to them, is just full of shit.

Gregory A. Butler (GAB from now on) has put some interesting perspectives into the discussion from his own (working class) experience which he has also filtered through the lens of Marxism.

At all times his contributions in this thread have been polite. (I have not read all his contributions in other threads.)

The recurrently nasty Khawaga leads the charge with: “Get with the fucking times.” This is a really telling statement (see below).

Mike Harman backs up Khawaga’s invective with technicalities including an interpretation of Marx’s thoughts on the lumpenproletariat designed to make GAB look as if he hasn’t read his Marx one hundred percent properly (btw Mike Harman knows everything, or at least has a link to knowledge of everything). Who fucking cares?

Black Badger, yes, your experience of prison is interesting, and I hope you are OK, but don’t turn it into your life story.

Bearing in mind that a lot of people who contribute to Libcom seem to have, or have had, issues with mental health, including Khawaga, then I am surprised that admins and others (particularly Khawaga) feel so ready to lay into someone who - ffs - is not being offensive.

This tantrummy invective towards GAB comes not from ‘a working class perspective,’ but from a middle class sociological perspective that emanates from the liberal establishment and academia.

It is no coincidence that GAB is being attacked here by academics (eg Khawaga) and those who have absorbed the tropes of the left liberal establishment. The distance from understanding the reality of working class life demonstrated here is enormous.

Good on you, GAB, for persevering on this thread. But I would give up if I were you.

fingers malone
Nov 4 2018 10:56

I had a look at UK statistics and 'violence against the person' and 'sexual offences' make up 40% of the prison population. Many other offences (eg theft) may have involved violence or aggression but also may not have, that information is not given in the statistics.
Yes I certainly agree that homeless and other vulnerable people are more likely to be on the receiving end of violent and predatory behaviour, but they are also less likely to get any protection from law enforcement, so the people who attack or hurt them are more likely to get away with it.
I definitely take seriously the issue of people attacking and preying on other working class people, but most of those people are strolling around free, the selfish and violent population is among us, not confined away in prison. Plenty of the working class people who suffer a lot of violence and aggression end up in prison as well.

R Totale
Nov 4 2018 12:04
Gregory A. Butler wrote:
Immigration detainees are a special case since they aren't actually criminals, generally speaking - they aren't burglars or rapists or dope dealers - they just violated the section of the US federal civil code that governs immigration laws and are being held pending deportation (a process that takes a long time due to the requirements of American immigration laws - there is a long judicial process that has to happen for them to get officially ordered by a judge to be deported, the deportee then has to get travel documents from their country of origin prior to being deported - which can be a problem if the US doesn't have an agreement with that country that governs deportation of it's nationals from our country to theirs - and deportations can be and often are delayed by the lengthy appeals process that immigrants have a right to initiate prior to deportation)

Most immigrants aren't in the regular prison system - Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol have their own detention facilities, and they also have private contractors that they hire to operate private detention facilities for immigrants (the vast majority of private prison inmates in the US are immigrant detainees)

So, you agree that the majority of private prison inmates are immigrant detainees, but that proves that immigrants aren't part of the prison system?

that reported I linked to above which is really hard to copy from on my phone wrote:
A Marshall Project analysis of 17 years of federal prison sentences shows that violations of immigration law already constitute the largest category of offenses in the border districts—even more than drug trafficking. Nationally, of the nearly 60,500 people sentenced to federal prison in the last fiscal year, more than 30 percent were convicted of immigration offenses, which can include “illegal re-entry” or people-smuggling. Along the border, immigration took the lead from drug trafficking early in the Obama administration, in some years accounting for more than half of the border districts’ federal prison sentences.Of the 94 federal court districts, the Southern and Western Districts of Texas send the most people to prison for these offenses—more than 8,000 last year where the length of length of the prison term was reported. Arizona and California also saw recent rises. In New Mexico the raw numbers are smaller, but immigration accounts for 76 percent of the new prison sentences that were handed down in the 2016–2017 federal fiscal year. Federal courts have been sending fewer people to prison in recent years, and immigration sentences have fallen from their peak in 2011, but they still grew last year to almost 18,500 nationwide...
Most cases of migrants accused of entering the country illegally are handled in civil immigration courts, not criminal courts, but those who are caught returning after being removed can face a federal charge of “illegal re-entry” and a prison sentence of up to 20 years.