Prisoners’ work strike in Alabama

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On 1 May, International Workers’ Day, a month-long prison labour strike began across the US state of Alabama. Stating ‘We will no longer contribute to our own oppression’, leaders of the Free Alabama Movement, a national movement against mass incarceration and prison slavery, have been organising for this state-wide prison work stoppage since 2015.

The strike began at Alabama’s Holman, Staton and Elmore Correctional Facilities, with St Clair’s and Donaldson Facilities following on 9 May. Prisoners announced that unless their demands were met they would refuse to leave their cells to perform the unpaid work which allows the prison to function. A statement on behalf of the striking prisoners said:

‘The Free Alabama Movement has chosen the non-violent and peaceful protest strategy of “shutdowns”/work stoppages to combat the multi-billion dollar Prison Industrial Complex that has incarcerated over two million people for the sole purpose of exploitation through free labour, private prisons, exorbitant fees, and more.

‘Instead of being a place for corrections, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been turned into a system of capitalism, where thousands of poor, uneducated, and disenfranchised citizens are being forced into labor to support a multi-billion dollar Prison Industrial Complex.’

The jobs prisoners are expected to perform range from serving food to ‘industry jobs’ that allow private companies to profit from prison labour. In Holman ‘industry jobs’ involve producing licence plates for the state of Alabama, and making sheets and pillowcases for Alabama prisons. St Clair prison contains a vehicle restoration plant, as well as a chemical plant, which, according to the Free Alabama Movement, manufactures over $25m worth of chemicals per year. In total, Alabama has 17 prison labour industries across correctional facilities, all of which directly profit from prison labour.

In retaliation, ADOC locked down whole prisons, with striking prisoners allowed only ‘limited movement’. This was coupled with use of the punishment tactic known as ‘bird feeding’, where prisoners are served significantly smaller meals (an estimated 60% of the normal serving) in order to starve them into submission.

This raises concern for the health of all prisoners, but especially for those with conditions such as diabetes, who are usually given a special diet to avoid hypoglycaemia. One prisoner said: ‘We’re supposed to get a minimum 2,400 calories a day and a minimum of 125 grams of protein a day and the meals that they’ve been feeding us are not adequate enough to keep our blood sugar up enough to take our insulin.’

For more information about the Free Alabama Movement and ways to show solidarity with the prisoners’ struggles,visit:

freealabamamovement.wordpress.com

Solidarity with the Alabama prison strikers!

Amy Stanley

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016

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