By FRED LINCK
Below are remarks by Socialist Action Senatorial candidate Fred Linck to an Aug. 25 Connecticut rally in solidarity with the national prison strike.
Organizers reported in the first days that incarcerated people in 17 states had joined the strike—risking severe punishment for their effort. Some were engaged in refusals to work, in hunger strikes, and in sit-ins. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), the main outside group supporting the strike, reported that “thousands” of prisoners were participating.
The actions were carried out to protest unjust sentencing laws, poor living conditions, and the continued existence of slavery within the U.S. penal system. Solidarity rallies have taken place in at least 21 cities, as we go to press.
Good afternoon everyone, Thank you for being here to stand in solidarity with incarcerated people across the country who went on strike on Aug. 21. My Name is Fred Linck and I am running for the U.S. Senate as Socialist Action’s candidate in Connecticut.
Incarceration is a business—a business that, like war, makes some people exceeding wealthy but does not make our world a better place. Americans are 5% of the world’s population, but we house 25% of the world’s incarcerated people—2.3 million people in total. Some 536,000 of these are in pre-trial detention. One in five of these people are locked up due to a non-violent drug offense. A good portion of those 2.3 million people work for pennies on the dollar, making super-profits for the companies they work for.
Last October, Frank Dwayne Ellington, an Alabama state prison inmate on work assignment, showed up at a chicken factory; he was assigned to a cleaning position at a plant run by the major poultry company, Koch Foods. But when a machine he was cleaning ensnared his arm, it pulled him into the machine and killed him on the spot.
The exploitation of prison and immigrant labor are two central features of labor in the United States today. Whether hounded by immigration authorities or incarcerated by the state, these workers’ rights are shredded in order to squeeze extraordinary profits from their labor. This strike is a step towards changing that.
Prisons appear to be paying incarcerated people less today than they did in 2001. The average of the minimum daily wages paid to incarcerated workers for non-industry prison jobs is now 86 cents, down from the 93 cents reported in 2001.
In Colorado, for example, it costs an incarcerated woman two weeks’ wages to buy a box of tampons, maybe more if there’s a shortage. Saving up for a $10 phone card takes almost two weeks for an incarcerated person working in a Pennsylvania prison.
This is how exploitation of prison labor works. The workers are paid next to nothing for their work while the prison charges exceedingly high amounts in fees for that labor, as well as high prices at the commissary for necessities, or what might make life behind bars a bit more bearable.
At last count, an estimated 6.1 million Americans (1.4 million of whom are still incarcerated) remain barred from voting due to a felony conviction. This is one way to expand the disenfranchisement of many communities. The state targets Black, Latino, immigrant, and poor communities, ensuring that more felonies come from these areas. And then they take away the voting rights of those caught in the net.
These are some of the reasons prisoners are striking across the country. This is why it is so important for us to be here in solidarity with them.
Our society is split into two classes. The owners of the largest business and banks, and those that sell our labor to be able to sustain our lives. We are all oppressed one way or another, but solidarity can give us the strength and understanding essential to break the hold this outmoded system has on our lives.
Solidarity teaches us that our oppression is linked, that we have more in common with the workers all over the world than we do with those right here who maintain an order which allows them to extract massive profits from our work.
Solidarity can also form the basis of a new society. A society that uses the abundance of this world, that uses the creativity and ingenuity of all people to ensure that no person goes without food, clean water, health care or education.
When we come together like the incarcerated are coming together for this strike we can make this new society a reality.
Photo: Prisoners solidarity march in Oakland, Calif. (Bradley Allen / Indymedia)