Prisoners on the Move - How You Can Help

An Introduction to the IWOC

I am a member of Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC). IWOC is a prisoner-led section of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW is a member-run union for all workers; a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries, and in our communities. The IWW has been organizing for over one hundred years. When first founded, the IWW was the only union open to all - regardless of race, gender or nationality. Over the years, meaningful victories by miners, dock workers, and agricultural workers have led to significant gains in wages and workplace conditions for working people.

Broadly, the IWOC, as a union for the incarcerated, fights for prison abolition. In addition to abolishing prison slavery, the IWOC also works to end the criminalization, exploitation, and enslavement of working class people in general.

The following article will first explore the roots of mass incarceration in the U.S. and the prisoner-led resistance to this oppressive system of prison slavery. It will then provide an update on recent struggles, both in Minnesota and nationally - including the IWOC’s role in this struggle. Lastly, a list of ways for you to get involved will be provided.

The Roots of Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration is literally a continuation of slavery. The 13th Amendment passed after the Civil War outlaws slavery but legalizes it for those “convicted of a crime”. This provision was used in the 1880-90s and again in the 1980-90s to squash black and working peoples’ organizing for fair labor conditions. This includes the Attica Uprising in 1971 that, for a minute, gave a face and voice to those behind bars.

People in prison are literally slaves - forced to work for free or pennies on the dollar, thrown into abusive overcrowded conditions with no recourse. Disgusting food, complete lack of real health or human supports, and little to no meaningful opportunities to improve themselves. Nor have conditions improved. The conditions that drove the Attica and many other rebellions remain in place today, with stronger locks.

National Update - The 2018 National Prison Strike

But prisoners have not been idle. As awareness has grown so too has a genuine prisoner-led mass movement, breaking through a media blackout and into the public consciousness via mass action.

Most notably the massive Georgia Prison Strike in 2010, the National Prison Strike in 2016 bottom-lined by Free Alabama Movement, and most recently, the Aug 21 - Sept 9 National Prison Strike, bottom-lined by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak.

IWOC members on the inside have been core leaders and participants in the last two strikes, and IWOC nationally has been a core outside support system in partnerships with many others.

While there is much more reflection to be done it’s clear mass action by prisoners is succeeding in changing the narrative on prison slavery and inhuman conditions. As long as the work continues to grow inside and out, mass reduction of the prison system becomes not only imaginable but quite likely. However, as with historical slavery the character of post-slavery is a crucial question and much more struggle will be required, driven by statewide bottom-up organizing.

Local Update - The Campaign to End Technical Violations in Minnesota

Minnesota prisoners choose not to participate in the National Strike, but have been putting in work: co-creating a campaign to end technical violations of parole this summer, and speaking out against the horrific ongoing lockdown at Stillwater Prison.

A technical violation of parole is when someone still on supervision is sent back to prison still on supervision for something that is not a crime. The extent of parole officer discretion is so great that we have over 3,000 people, 35% or more of annual Minnesota prison admissions sent back for things like being late to an appointment, losing a job or housing, or testing positive for alcohol or marijuana. This needs to end immediately, with the money returning to frontline communities.

There has also been an active struggle against the brutal lockdown at Stillwater Prison, initiated due to the killing of an officer by a lone prisoner on July 18th. As of this writing 1,600 men have been locked in their cells for 67 days. IWOC members inside were able to get information to the media regarding this human rights disaster where people were left to rot in cells with one change of clothes, hardly any food, and two showers over a three week period. This pressure has resulted in a ‘modified’ lockdown but prisoners are still uniformly in cells for 21 hours a day, denied yard, cafeteria, programming, and more.

Worse, the DOC is using the lockdown to close down scarce beneficial programming and guards are intentionally provoking prisoners in an attempt to generate even more money for ‘security measures’. It needs to be understood that in Minnesota prisons guards are the victimizers, not the victims, and that no real change is possible without prisoners voices at the table.

The table below gives you resources to hear directly from prisoners, as well as provides various opportunities to plug-in and actively get involved in the resistance.

Get Involved

  1. Learn more about Prison Strike Campaigns: incarceratedworkers.org/campaigns/prison-strike-2018;

or donate at fundly.com/2018-prisoner-strike.

2. Learn more about Ending Technical Violations:

tinyurl.com/violationspodcast;

or get directly involved at tinyurl.com/getinvolvedmn.

3. Learn more about the lockdown at Stillwater Prison:

tinyurl.com/insidelockdown

4. Learn more about the the IWW:

contact: tc.iwoc@gmail.com, facebook/tciwoc, or incarceratedworkers.org.

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