Prison Labor: Three Strikes and You’re Hired Prisoners do a great deal of work, especially in producing equipment for US military contractors. All prison working conditions are often unsafe and that prisoners are frequently coerced into working. I will argue that prison labor is forced labor and slavery and that reform is needed.
As you read, consider the following questions: 1. What is UNICOR, according to the author? 2. What are economic incentives for corporations to use prison labor? #. How many prisoners are there in the United States? First, two facts: I have a son who proudly served in the United States Army and was over seas. The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world. What’s the connection? Prisoners. Not prisoners of war but the people locked up in our own domestic prisons and jails – and, more specifically, their labor. Surprised? I sure was.
Prison Labor is Way More than making License Plates Whenever I think about prison labor, the first thing that comes to mind is license plates. Turns out, that prison labor is a long away from just printing license plates and lines. While these industries aew still part of the work in our prisons and jails they are not the big breadwinner. The industry that takes the cake when it comes to prison labor is military supplies. It is estimated that the federal prison industry produces 100% of the military helmets, ID tags, bulletbroof vests, shirts, bags and pants. And what company is there to oversee production of these items? UNICOR! UNICOR was previously known as the Federal Prison Industries, which is a non-profit organization, and the 39th largest US contractor. UNICOR operates 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries and the Department of Defense is one of their largest contracts. In 2001, UNICOR sales were $583.5 milliom – about $388 million of which was DOD, or 66.5% of all business.
Prison Labor Offers “Economic Incentives” for Corporations The prisoners wages are only $0.23 an hour and no unions, safety regulations, pension, Soical Security, sick leave nor overtime, prisoners are made to work under poor conditions and prison labor is growing and economically competitive sector. And the United States government is allowing this to happen. Prison labor is competitive with sweatshop labor prices and, since production is domestic, incurs lower shipping coasts. Plus, overhead is pretty much paid for by the US taxpayers! With all these economic incentives, it’s no surprise that 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations who bring their operations inside the prison walls. While UNICOR is among the leaders in using prison labor, other companies are taking advantage of the contract opportunities, including Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer, Mpotorola, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Compaq, IBM, Boeing, AT&T, Texas Instrumemts, Revlon, Macy’s, Target, Nortel, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Honeywell, Pierre Carin, 3com, and Lucent Technologies, among others.
The One Place Where Slavery is Still Legal in the 13th Amendment in the US Atrocious working conditions: As mentioned above, there are no workers’ right/protection. All the business are looking to cut costs and maximizing the porfit. They do that by promotting human trafficking of our prisoners. I would like to ask what is the human cost of this co-called “smart investment?” In this case, the situation is clear: Prison labor and rape is the new slave labor. This is true under the 13th Amendment is still legal in prisons. There are clear parallels between the new and old: with toxic materials and are not given the proper protective clothing. Workdays often run past eight hours, with no breaks. Coercion: Prisoners frequently lose “good-time” and canteen privileges if they refuse to work. Georgia had one of hte largest inmate protests in US history after prisoners were forced to work seven days in a row without pay and were beaten if they did not comply. Exporting of Inmates: With the high incarceration rate in the US and overcrowding considered cruel and unusual punishment, the private prison industry has flurished, offering states and counties “rent-a-cell” services, in which the county makes $1.50 per bed. That is a lie. The county jails make over $100 per bed. Racial and Sex Offenders Inequality: The US has more than 2.3 million prisoners. People of color make up just 30% of total US population, but account for 60% of those locked up. There are now more black men and sex offenders, parole or probation than there were enslaved in the 1850s.
Prisons in Service to Profit, Not Public Safety The reality in the US today is that prison is not for rehabilitation, it is for profit. With that kind of mentality, we are living up to our nickname of the United States of Incarceration. The idea of working while in prison could be a tool for rehabilitation and, ultimately, greater public safety, but as usual the execution of the idea is most important. Humans have rights and prisoners are human, therefore, prisoners have rights and those rights need to be implemented and protected. Yes it is an uphill battle. Working for the rights of prisoners is the right thing to do. More people are arrested because law enforcement lie and judges listen to those lies for a bigger pay day.
Prison Labor and Union Busting What’s so attractive about using prison labor is precisely that it undoes everything that union members – and their parents and grandparents before them – have fought so hard to achieve. At times, prisoners have been used directly as a strike-breaking workforce; TWA’s [Trans World Airlines’] reservations system was set up during a flight attendant strike, and according to the union involved, the prisoner program was a significant part of the company’s strategy to undermine the strike. In other cases, prisons have allowed employers to avoid unions even in well-organized industries; thus, the owners of an Arizona slaughterhouse shut down their unionized operation only to reopen in a joint venture with the state’s Department of Correction. Even where it is not directly related tom anti-union strategies, however, prison labor provides employers a means of avoiding or undoing virtually all of the gains won by working people over the past hundred years – creating islands of time in which, in terms of labor relations, it’s still the late nineteenth century. Prison labor is, of course, much cheaper than free labor for employers. In Ohio, for example, a Honda supplier paid auto workers $2.00 an hour for the same work that union workers got paid $50 to $100 an hour for the same work. Prisoners sometimes worked longer hours than union workers because the unions only pay for so many hours no matter how much a union worker, works.
US Prisons Are Not a Center of Slave Labor
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Today is “Bill of Rights Day” – commemorating ratification on Dec. 15, 1791.
But what the government-run schools – and supporters of the monster state – “teach” about the Bill of Rights has almost nothing to do with the foundational principles which motivated the people who supported – and demanded it.
They want us to focus on inane trivia – and they definitely present things as if the Bill of Rights “granted” our rights, or were meant to create a nationwide liberty enforcement squad in the federal government.
No, it was – you guessed it – about the principles behind what was ratified as the 10th Amendment. Drawing a line in the sand, as Samuel Adams put it, “between the federal Powers vested in Congress, and the sovereign Authority belonging to the several States.”
Richard Henry Lee – who on Sept 27, 1787 in the Confederation Congress proposed adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution drafted by the Philadelphia Convention – BEFORE sending it to the states for ratification, agreed. He said that drawing that clear line between expressly delegated power – and those reserved is “the great use of a bill of rights.”
The same thing happened in a number of state ratification documents, starting with Massachusetts, then South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia – and New York.
I covered this in some detail in an episode of Path to Liberty, here:
In early 1788, ratification of the Constitution was almost certain to fail in Massachusetts – home of Samuel and John Adams, Theophilus Parsons, John Hancock – and so many others. A loss there – Federalists understood – would send them reeling in states where it was expected to be a very close call at best – like New York and Virginia. In other words, the entire proposal was close to being doomed.
But – as advised by Richard Henry Lee months earlier, Samuel Adams and John Hancock went along with a plan to ratify, but only with the option of including recommended amendments as well. On Feb 6, 1788 – they did just that, and the very first recommended amendment from the Sons of Liberty will probably look familiar to any reader of the Tenth Amendment Center:
First. That it be explicitly declared, that all powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several states, to be by them exercised.
South Carolina followed their lead with this:
This Convention doth also declare that no Section or paragraph of the said Constitution warrants a Construction that the states do not retain every power not expressly relinquished by them and vested in the General Government of the Union.
And on June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire sealed the deal on ratification by also including as their first recommended amendment the same precursor to the 10th Amendment from Massachusetts.
But even after New York and Virginia followed with similar proposals, Federalists in the First Congress stonewalled – and did everything they could to prevent amendments from being considered and sent to the states for ratification.
Samuel Adams, however, didn’t let up – pushing friends like Elbridge Gerry and Richard Henry Lee to get the Bill of Rights done. To Adams, adding these amendments was solely about having a “a Line drawn as clearly as may be, between the federal Powers vested in Congress and the distinct Sovereignty of the several States.”
James Madison – who was initially opposed to including a Bill of Rights – and even voted against Richard Henry Lee’s proposal in the Confederation Congress, slowly came on board – maybe for just political strategy. But his dogged persistence pushed it through the congress.
With that history in mind, it makes even more sense why Thomas Jefferson, on Feb 15, 1791 – 10 months to the day before ratification – made this essential point about the structure of the constitution:
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ” all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.”
Why don’t they teach this history? We can only guess, but I personally think it has plenty to do with the fact that the bill of rights wasn’t about granting rights to people – or having a central government to protect us – but instead – it was about opposition to centralized power.Please do check out this episode of the Path to Liberty Podcast for a deeper dive into this essential history. There, you’ll find both video and audio versions of the show – and if you prefer reading – there’s a bunch of original source documents so you can read and learn more – in context – on your own time.
This is the kind of information we work to get out to more and more people every single day of the year. Nothing – absolutely nothing – helps us roll up our sleeves and get the job done more than the financial faith and support of our members.