POV: slavery on the new plantation
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Sat Feb 3, 2007 7:13 am (PST) >>POV: slavery on the new plantation
via: Strong Sista Kiilu Nyasha!
Introduction: This report is the second part of a series that began with
publication of AMERICAN TORTURE CHAMBERS: A Report on Today's Prisons
and Jails in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper last month, 12/06, and
posted on Independent Media Center's website
www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/01/11/18345676.php. I realize this
report is quite long, but it's still just the tip of the iceberg with
regard to the fast-growing prison industrial complex, the
prison-building boom, and the astounding increase in the prison
population -- 13.5 million trafficked into prisons annually, 7 million
in prison, on probation or parole. I urge you to take the time to read
both parts, and reprint or post on your websites. I would also suggest
that investigative journalists pick up this ball and run with it. Much
more such information needs to be exposed and opposed since the
proliferation of prisons affects us all. As George Jackson wrote, "The
police state is not coming, it's here -- glaring and threatening." In
fact, the fascist arrangement of totalitarian social control and
modern-day slavery is here to stay unless we move quickly and massively
to turn the tide.
SLAVERY ON THE NEW PLANTATION:
A Report of Today's Prisons and Jails,
"Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today. It's the same, but with a new
name. They're practicing slavery under color of law." (Ruchell Cinque
One of the newest forms of slave labor is the U.S. Army's "Civilian
Inmate Labor Program" to "benefit both the Army and corrections systems"
by providing "a convenient source of labor at no direct cost to Army
installations," additional space to alleviate prison overcrowding, and
cost-effective use of land and facilities otherwise not being utilized.
"With a few exceptions," this program is currently limited to prisoners
under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) which allows the Attorney
General to provide the services of federal prisoners to other federal
agencies, defining the types of services they can perform. The Program
stipulates that the "Army is not interested in, nor can afford, any
relationship with a corrections facility if that relationship stipulates
payment for civilian inmate labor. Installation civilian inmate labor
program operating costs must not exceed the cost avoidance generated
from using inmate labor." In other words the prison labor must be free
The three "exceptions" to exclusive Federal contracting are as follows:
(1) "a demonstration project" providing "prerelease employment training
to nonviolent offenders in a State correctional facility" [CF]. (2) Army
National Guard units "may use inmates from an off-post State and/or
local CF." (3) Civil Works projects. Services provided might include
constructing or repairing roads, maintaining or reforesting public land;
building levees, landscaping, painting, carpentry, trash pickup, etc.
This Civilian Inmate Labor Program document includes in its countless
specifications such caveats as "Inmates must not be referred to as
employees." A prisoner would not qualify if he/she is a "person in whom
there is a significant public interest," who has been a "significant
management problem," "a principal organized crime figure," any "inmate
convicted of a violent crime," a sex offense, involvement with drugs
within the last three years, an escape risk, "a threat to the general
public." Makes one wonder why such a prisoner isn't just released or
paroled. In fact, the "hiring qualifications" -- makes me suspect the
"Civilian Inmate Labor Program" is a backdoor draft, especially in lieu
of the Bush Administration's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq with
a military already stretched to its limit.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (It needed a lot of
amending.) retained the right to enslave within the confines of prison.
Nearly 400 years of chattel slavery was secured and perpetuated by
Amendment XIII. Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary
servitude,except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have
been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place
subject to their jurisdiction. Dec. 6, 1865
Even before the so-called abolition of slavery, America's history of
prisoner labor had already begun in New York's State Prison at Auburn
soon after it opened in 1817. Auburn became the first prison that
contracted with a private business to operate a factory within its
walls. Later, in the post Civil War period, the "contract and lease"
system proliferated, allowing private companies to employ prisoners and
sell their products for profit.
In Southern states, Slave Codes were rewritten as Black Codes, a series
of laws criminalizing the law-abiding activities of Black people, such
as standing around, "loitering," or walking at night, "breaking curfew."
The enforcement of these Codes dramatically increased the number of
Blacks in Southern prisons. E.g., in 1878, Georgia leased out 1,239
convicts, 1,124 of whom were Black.
The lease system provided slave labor for plantation owners or private
industries as well as revenue for the state, since incarcerated workers
were entirely in the custody of the contractors who paid a set annual
fee to the state (about $25,000), Entire prisons were leased out to
private contractors who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death.
Prisons became the new plantations; Angola State Prison in Louisiana
actually was a plantation. It still is except the slaves are now called
convicts and the prison is known as "The Farm." (A documentary of that
title is available on DVD.)
The loss of outside jobs and the inherent brutality and cruelty of the
lease system sparked resistance which eventually brought about its
demise. One of the most famous battles was the Coal Creek Rebellion of
1891. When the Tennessee coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their
workers and replaced them with convicts, the miners stormed the prison
and freed 400 captives; and when the company continued to contract
prisoners, the miners burned the prison down. The Tennessee leasing
system was disbanded shortly thereafter. But it remained in many states
until the rise of resistance in the 1930s.
Strikes by prisoners and union workers together were organized by then
radical CIO and other labor unions. They pressured Congress to pass the
1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act making it illegal to transport prison-made
goods across state lines. But under President Jimmy Carter, Congress
granted exemptions to the Act by passing the Justice System Improvement
Act of 1979, which produced the Prison Industries Enhancement program,
or PIE, that eventually spread to all 50 states. This lifted the ban on
interstate transportation and sale of prison-made products, permitting a
for-profit relationship between prisons and the private sector, and
prompting a dramatic increase in prison labor which continues to escalate.
As the leasing system phased out, a new, even more brutal exploitation
emerged -- the chain gang. An extremely dehumanizing cruelty that
chained men, and later women, together in groups of five, it was
originated to build extensive roads and highways. The first state to
institute chain gangs was Alabama, followed by Arizona, Florida, Iowa,
Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana, and Oklahoma.
Georgia's chain-gang conditions were particularly brutal. Men were put
out to work swinging 12 lb. sledge hammers for 16 hours a day,
malnourished and shackled together, unable to move their legs a full
stride. Wounds from metal shackles often became infected, leading to
illness and death. Prisoners who could not keep up with the grueling
pace were whipped or shut in a sweat box or tied to a hitching post, a
stationary metal rail. Chained to the post with hands raised high over
his head, the prisoner remained tethered in that position in the Alabama
heat for many hours without water or bathroom breaks. (Human Rights
Watch World Report 1998).
Thanks to a lawsuit settled by the Southern Poverty Law Center,
Alabama's Department of Corrections agreed in 1996 to stop chaining
prisoners together. A few years later, the Center won a Court ruling
that ended use of the hitching post as a violation of the 8th
Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."
A report by Timothy Dodge in "Alabama Review" noted, When the
convict-lease system was abolished in 1928, most of the white convicts,
who had been leased to coal mines and lumber camps, were sent to the
cotton mills and metal workshops at Kilby and Speigner prisons, whereas
most of the black convicts ended up in chain gangs. In effect, the black
chain gang was a continuation of racist slave labor.
In response to the demands of World War II, the number of both free and
captive road workers declined significantly. In 1941, there were 1,750
prisoners slaving in 28 active road camps for all types of construction
and maintenance. The numbers bottomed out by war's end at 540 captives
in seventeen camps.
Although chain gangs were phased out in1955, Alabama reinstituted chain
gangs in 1995 followed by Arizona, Florida, Iowa, and Maine. Arizona's
first female chain gang was instituted in 1996. Complete with striped
uniforms, the women of a Phoenix jail (to this day) spend four to six
hours a day chained together in groups of 30, clearing roadsides of weeds.
In the 1940s, California Governor Earl Warren conducted secret
investigations into the State's only prisons, San Quentin and Folsom.
The depravity, squalor, sadism, and torture he found led the governor to
initiate the building of Soledad Prison in 1951. Prisoners were put to
work in educational and vocational programs that taught basic courses in
English and math, and provided training in trades ranging from gardening
to meat cutting. At wages of 7 to 25 cents an hour, California prisoners
used their acquired skills to turn out institutional clothing and
furniture, license plates and stickers, seed new crops, slaughter pigs,
produce and sell dairy products to a nearby mental institution,
Within a decade this "model prison" at Soledad had become another
torture chamber of filthy dungeons, literal "holes," virulently racist
guards, officially sanctioned brutality, torture, and murder.
Though prison jobs are supposed to be voluntary, if prisoners refuse to
work they're often given longer sentences, denied privileges, or thrown
into solitary confinement.
Prisoners were brutalized and forced to work long hours under miserable
conditions. In the 1960s, "Soledad Brother," George Jackson, organized a
work strike that turned into a riot after white strikebreakers tried to
lynch one of the Black strikers.
The Black Movement's resistance, led by Jackson, W. L. Nolen, and Hugo
"Yogi" Pinell, eventually brought Congressional oversight and overhaul
of California's prison system. (The Melancholy History of Soledad
Prison, by Min S. Yee.).
Yet, little has changed except for an incredible expansion that now has
the state system bursting at the seams with 174,000 prisoners (The L.A.
Times reported 12/23/06 a 1,000 prisoner increase in a matter of weeks!)
crammed into 90 penitentiaries, small prisons and camps stretched across
900 miles of the fifth-largest economy in the world, as Ruth Gilmore's
new book, "Golden Gulag" reports. Since 1984, the state has erected 43
penal institutions, making it a global leader in prison construction.
Most of the new prisons have been built in rural areas far from family
and friends, and most captives are Black or Brown men, unemployed or
working poor. Suicide and recidivism rates approach twice the national
average, and the State spends as much or more on prisons as on higher
In fact, Governor Schwarzenazi 's solution to prison overcrowding is
sending prisoners out of state, and adding 78,000 more beds, spending
$11 billion more of your taxes on a failed prison system. For Fiscal
Year 2005-2006, the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) was allocated a total of $7,398,743,000. ("and
Rehabilitation" was added to the CDC by the new Governor sans rehab.)
In 1985, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger lauded China's prison
labor program: "1,000 inmates in one prison I visited comprised a
complete factory unit producing hosiery and what we would call casual or
sport shoes... Indeed it had been a factory and was taken over to make a
prison." Burger called for the conversion of prisons into factories, the
repeal of laws limiting prison industry production and sales, and the
active participation of business and organized labor.
Heeding the judge's call, California voters passed Prop 139 in 1990,
establishing the Joint Venture Program allowing California businesses to
cash in on prison labor.
"This is the new jobs program for California, so we can compete on a
Third World basis with countries like Bangladesh," observed Richard
Holober with the California Federation of Labor.
Businesses in Joint Venture must pay at least minimum wage (although the
State takes back 80 percent of prisoners' pay checks) and promise
they're not taking jobs away from people on the outside. But in reality.
they have. For example, Lockhard Technologies, Inc. closed its plant in
Austin, Texas, laying off 150 employees, and reopened its shop in a
State Prison. ("Prison Labor on the Rise in US," Whyte &Baker, 2000).
In 1994, Oregon voters passed a constitutional amendment establishing a
mandatory 40-hour work week for the State's prisoners, resulting in the
loss of thousands of civil service and private sector jobs. Outside
construction workers lost jobs when prisoners were assigned to build
more units -- literally building their own cages.
Currently, California's Prison Industrial Authority (PIA) employs 5,900
captives and operates over 60 service, manufacturing, and agricultural
industries at 22 prisons throughout the state. It produces over 1,400
goods and services including office furniture, clothing, food products,
shoes, printing services, signs, binders, eye wear, gloves, license
plates, cell equipment, and much more. Wages are $.30 to $.95 per hour
before deductions, according to the PIA's latest figures on its website.
When I need new glasses, they have to be sent to Donovan State Prison,
San Diego, where prisoners fill prescriptions for Medi-Cal patients.
For the State's highest wage, $1 hour, prisoners provide the "backbone
of the state's wildland fire fighting crews," according to an
unpublished CDC report. The State Department of Forestry saves more than
$70 million annually using prison labor. California's Department of
Forestry has 198 Fire Crews comprised of CDC and CYA (California Youth
Authority) minimum-security captives housed in 41 Conservation Camps
throughout the state.
"Their primary function is to construct fire line by hand in areas where
heavy machinery cannot be used because of steep topography, rocky
terrain, or areas that may be considered environmentally sensitive."
(I.e., the most dangerous fire lines).
CYA juveniles are also working for TWA as ticket agents, assembling
computer circuit boards, doing sheet metal work, photo copying, and
packaging plastic eating utensils for fast-food restaurants.
Now at least 37 states have similar programs wherein prisoners
manufacture everything from blue jeans to auto parts, electronics and
toys. Clothing made in Oregon and California is exported to other
countries, competing successfully with apparel made in Asia and Latin
The Federal Prison Industries (FPI), a nonprofit Justice Department
subsidiary, that does business as UNICOR, was created in 1935. and began
supplying the Pentagon on a broad scale in the 1980s.
In 1985, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, FPI had 71
factories enslaving 9,995 captives generating sales of $239.9 million.
By 2003, there were 100 FPI factories working 20,274 slaves with sales
totaling $666.8 million.
And currently FPI employs about 19,000 captives, slightly less than 20
percent of the federal prison population, in 106 prison factories around
the country. Profits totaled nearly $40 million!
In 2005, FPI sold more than $750,000,000 worth of goods to the federal
government. Sales to the Army alone put UNICOR on the Army's list of top
50 suppliers, ahead of well-known corporations like Dell Computer,
according to Wayne Woolley, Newhouse News Service.
Over the past three years, thousands of federal prisoners have been
working overtime filling Pentagon contracts for everything from radio
components to body armor.
Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Army's
Communication and Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth, N.J., has
shipped more than 200,000 radios to combat zones, most with at least
some components manufactured by federal inmates working in 11 prison
electronics factories around the country. Under current law, UNICOR
enjoys a contracting preference known as "mandatory source," which
obligates government agencies to try to buy certain goods from the
prisons before allowing private companies to bid on the work. This same
contracting restriction applies to state agencies.
The demand for defense products from FPI became so great that "national
exigency" provisions were invoked so the 20 percent limit on goods
provided in each category could be exceeded. The rules were waived
during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Private manufacturers say they've been
hurt by such practice, as they are unable to bid on various products.
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry
produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof
vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war
supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment
assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove
assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of
headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane
parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising
seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
By 2007, the overall sales figures and profits for federal and state
prison industries had skyrocketed into the billions.
Apparently, the military industrial complex and the prison industrial
complex (PIC) have joined forces.
This PIC is a network of public and private prisons, of military
personnel, politicians, business contacts, prison guard unions,
contractors, subcontractors and suppliers all making big profits at the
expense of poor people who comprise the overwhelming majority of
captives. The fastest growing industry in the country, it has its own
trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet
catalogs and direct advertising campaigns. Corporate stockholders who
make money off prisoners' labor lobby for longer sentences, in order to
expand their workforce.
Replacing the "contract and lease" system of the 19th Century, private
companies that have contracted prison labor include Microsoft, Boeing,
Honeywell, IBM, Revlon, Pierre Cardin, Compaq, Victoria Secret, and
In 1995, there were only five private prisons in the country, with a
population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are at least 100, with some
62,000 inmates. That number is expected to hit 360,000 within a decade.
The two largest private prison corporations in the US, Wackenhut and
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), are transnationals, managing
prisons and detention centers in at least 13 states, Australia, Canada,
South Africa, and the United Kingdom. A top performer on the New York
Stock Exchange, CCA called California its "new frontier," and boasts of
investors such as Wal-Mart, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, Chevrolet,
Texaco, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, and UPS.
Employers (Read: slave masters) don't have to pay health or unemployment
insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or
reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as
21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a
grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job.
Mass roundups of immigrants and non-citizens, currently about half of
all federal prisoners, and dragnets in low-income 'hoods have increased
the prison population to unprecedented levels. Andrea Hornbein points
out in Profit Motive: "The majority of these arrests are for low level
offenses or outstanding warrants, and impact the taxpayer far more than
the offense. For example, a $300 robbery resulting in a 5 year sentence,
at the Massachusetts average of $43,000 per year, will cost $215,000.
That doesn't even include law enforcement and court costs."
Nearly 75% of all prisoners are drug war captives. A criminal record
today practically forces an ex-con into illegal employment since they
don't qualify for legitimate jobs or subsidized housing. Minor parole
violations, unaffordable bail, parole denials, longer mandatory
sentencing and three strikes laws, slashing of welfare rolls,
overburdened court systems, shortage of public defenders, massive
closings of mental hospitals, and high unemployment (about 50% for Black
men) -- all contribute to the high rates of incarceration and
recidivism. Thus, the slave labor pool continues to expand.
"In order to please shareholders, corporations must achieve growth.
Empty cells do not generate profits."
Unions have been virtually silent about the huge growth of prison labor
in the U.S., reports Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker ("Prison Labor on the
Rise in U.S.,2000). The Tennessee AFL-CIO supported privatization of the
state's prison system and struck a deal with CCA in 1997. For the most
part, unions have bought into the prison system's propaganda blaming
prisoners for job losses and pitting them against organized labor. In
fact, two Republicans have competing bills in Congress: One would expand
the PIC and give prisoners a raise from 21 cents to $1.15 an hour; the
other would compel prison industry to compete with private enterprise
with support from the AFL-CIO.
Honda paid inmates $2 an hour for the same work an auto worker would get
paid, $20 to $30 an hour. But in this instance, the United Auto Workers
raised hell pressuring Honda to cancel its prison labor contract.
Among the most powerful unions today are the guards' unions. The
California Corrections Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) wields so much
political power it practically decides who governs the state. Moreover,
its members get the State's biggest payouts, according to the L.A.
Times. "More than 1600 officers' earnings exceeded legislators' 2007
salaries of $113,098." Base pay for 6,000 guards earning $100,000 or
more totaled $453 million with overtime adding another $220 million to
wages. One lieutenant guard earned more than any other state official,
including the Governor, or $252,570.
The Progressive Labor Party accuses the prison industry of being "an
imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and
The National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) is an
international nonprofit professional association, whose mission is to
promote excellence and credibility in correctional industries through
professional development and innovative business solutions. NCIA's
members include all 50 state correctional industry agencies, Federal
Prison Industries, foreign correctional industry agencies, city and
county jail industry programs, and private sector companies working in
partnership with correctional industries.
In summary, we must remember that the emancipation of Black people from
chattel slavery resulted from prolonged guerrilla warfare between the
slaves and the slaveowners, led by the revolutionary General Harriet
Tubman. More than 50,000 slaves fled from the South to the North and
Canada, 50,000 acts of rebellion.
As George Jackson noted in a KPFA interview with Karen Wald (Spring
1971), "I'm saying that it's impossible, impossible, to
concentration-camp resisters....We have to prove that this thing won't
work here. And the only way to prove it is resistance...and then that
resistance has to be supported, of course, from the street....We can
fight, but the results are...not conducive to proving our point...that
this thing won't work on us. From inside, we fight and we die....the
point is -- in the new face of war -- to fight and win."