No-Deportations – Appeal for Donations/Standing Orders

 

Organising Behind Bars to Fight Prison Slavery

by Nicole Vosper

If there is one thing that I learned in my time inside, it is that prisons cannot function without the labour of prisoners. We cook the food, maintain the gardens, clean the wings, work at reception, do the laundry, pack the canteen bags…Without us, prisons could not afford the cost of keeping us imprisoned. Ironic, isn’t it?

It has inspired me to see, therefore, recent prisoner resistance in the United States. Across the country, prisoners have started to recognise the system’s economic dependence on them. In 2013, the largest hunger strike in recorded history took place in California. More than 30,000 participants effectively ended solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. This huge victory is as a result of prisoner organising.

With mass incarceration so linked to for-profit prison industries, prisoners now have more opportunities for leverage than ever. They are moving beyond hunger strikes to withdrawing their labour as well – and it is sending prisons into a tailspin across the US.

Multiple grassroots organisations and movements are fighting on the outside to support these prisoner efforts. One of these is the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) which is a part of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW is a revolutionary union founded in 1905 that has a long proud history of fighting for the working class. It was the first union organised by immigrants, people of colour, women, unskilled workers, prisoners and everyone else who the official mainstream labour organisations refused to organise with and often sold out.

We do not rely on the law, the courts and the politicians, all of which are complicit in the prison system. Instead, the IWW embraces direct action and the power of standing together to fight for our collective demands. In reality, this may look like strikes, demonstrations, slowdowns, sabotage and organising free education for members. Unlike other unions, that simply fight for bigger pieces of the capitalist pie, the IWW’s vision is for a world without the wage system, without prisons, and without capitalism.

IWOC emerged in the United States in 2014. It was started following the IWW’s involvement in the Free Alabama Movement. FAM is a movement of prisoners, their families, and others who are fighting against the horrendous conditions prisoners face in Alabama. In the last two years, prisoner membership has swelled. There have been increasing numbers of organised work stoppages and huge volumes of literature have been distributed within the US prison system. Last September 9th, on the 45th Anniversary of the Attica Prison Rebellion, the largest prison strike in history took place across America. It is estimated that at a minimum more than 57,000 prisoners participated in 22 states across 42 prisons. The financial losses to the California prison system alone were as much as $636,068 every day of the strike. Solidarity actions took place in 60 cities across the US and around the world.

With support from IWOC in the US, a new committee to support prisoner resistance in England, Wales, and Scotland has started. Membership is free for prisoners and we invite anyone interested to contact us.

We know from being in prison that defending yourself on your own normally means an IEP, segregation, being ghosted out or worse. Yet we know that complaints don’t work, talking to the IMB doesn’t work, lobbying those in power rarely succeeds and the legal system is stacked up against us from day one. To bring the prison system to its knees, we need prisoner-led resistance. But prisoners need, more than ever, a strong movement of people on the outside willing to fight by their side. The ethos of the IWW is about ‘One Big Union’. To us, an injury to one is an injury to all.

IWOC would like to support prisoners, their families, friends, and comrades to organise in whatever way they can. We want to act as a point of contact, to share information and be a source of support. We want to share news of prisoner organising around the world. We plan to produce a regular newsletter with content produced by prisoners here. Please send us your letters, articles, and artwork. But more than anything, we want to have your back! We want to mobilise people on the outside to be at the prison gates screaming in solidarity when you’re abused by officers. We want to block phone lines of prisons when they deny you medical treatment. We want to support you to strike if you desire. We want to support prisoners to stop prisons from being profitable. We believe, as witnessed in the US, that prisoners have power. Your struggles are not invisible. They are central to destroying capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia and many other forms of domination.

There has never been a more important time to organise. Government cuts are resulting in more violence, bang-up and neglect in prisons. More and more people are getting sent down and the State plan to build six mega prisons to further profit from putting people in cages. All the while, it is becoming harder and harder to survive on the outside. Benefit sanctions, horrific working conditions and zero hour contracts are the reality for most. It is a critical time to come together and fight for a different future.

By building relationships, working together and resisting the alienation and separation that prison inflicts on us, we can bring this system down. The IWW encourages people to educate themselves, organise and agitate together so that the working class is no longer exploited and we can begin to reclaim our lives. By joining the IWW you can find practical solidarity and support from people on the outside. You are not alone!

 

To request a membership form and more information please write to 

Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC)
c/o IWW, IWW, PO Box 5251, Yeovil, BA20 9FS. 
For more info visit iwoc.iww.org.uk