An Inside Account of the National Prisoners’ Strike | The New Yorker
On August 21st, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a labor union for prisoners that aims “to end prison slavery,” announced the start of a nationwide strike inside U.S. prisons. Wages for incarcerated workers are typically measured in cents per hour, and several states—including Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina—use the labor of prisoners without paying them at all.
“We first heard about the strike from I.W.O.C.,” a man who is incarcerated in South Carolina, and is participating in the strike, told me, speaking from prison on a contraband cell phone. “They sent out a text message inviting everybody to join in—you know, to stand in solidarity and to end prison injustice. I did my own research, looked it up, verified it,” he added. He shared his identity with The New Yorker but spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation by prison officials.
“The strike was supposed to happen next year,” he went on, “and it didn’t have anything to do with South Carolina—until the riot happened, and those gentlemen died.” In April, seven men were killed in a bloody prison riot at Lee County Correctional Institution, an understaffed prison in Bishopville, South Carolina. The head of the prison system, Bryan Stirling, claimed that gangs, contraband, and cell phones were to blame. Organizers moved the strike up in response, setting a new start date on the anniversary of the day, in 1971, that California prison guards shot George Jackson, a member of the Black Panther Party. The strike is meant to continue until September 9th, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising.