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The Next Step for Organized Labor? People in Prison


The Next Step for Organized Labor? People in Prison.

Mike Elk

In the early 2000s, the small but militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) launched union drives at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s. At the time, many in the mainstream labor movement scratched their heads. Traditionally, labor groups believed that the high turnover of fast food workers would make them impossible to organize.


Unfortunately, since the 13th Amendment to the Constitution basically allows for convicts to be used as slave labor, I wonder if any challenges to their attempt to organize will get very far.


The grievances and issues of prisoners are so manifold and those who hold the keys are so powerful, often hidden, that all kinds of help from many directions are needed. Obama tried to release people in the US as well as close Guantamo, but the results were paltry. And then there are US prisons overseas…


Slavery is always the demon on the horizon. We need to understand that so much of what infrastructure we have in the US is the result of slave labor. The White House was built by slaves. The tunnels under Hudson River were dug by people who died for a few cents/hour. I was recently in Barcelona and their Maritime Museum. The French recently built a full scale model of a shipping vessel, one that replicated the stuff being used around 1860. It was a large wooden ship, fitted with benches where slaves were chained in to provide propulsion. Four guys on each oar. President Washington got the Chesapeake and Ohio canal started, getting slaves to grab their picks and shovels during vacation time (between planting and harvesting). So, we need not be surprised that slaves are with us today. And the Constitution is full of clauses that reflect the fact that slave owners wrote it. But that does not excuse us for our horrid criminal mis-justice system. The Constitution also restricts voting to those who are convicted felons. Again, a huge mistake. Citizens are citizens. To think that the crooks are in jail is a joke. Voting should be encouraged. So, we need to move forward toward a new time. We need to return to a penal system that prepares citizens for release in a way that they are good citizens when they are released. The drill should be at least four hours/day of classes, and “labor” should be focused on training, teaching specific technical skills so the released citizens are employable. Right now, for example, we are Colorado are critically support of skilled craftsmen needed to construct buildings. And a large number of other jobs. Prisoners should be paid minimum wage, and the greatest amount of that money should be set aside as a fund when they are released, or sent to family members for support.