‘Modern Slavery’: The Labor History Behind the New Nationwide Prison Strike

By Emily Moon | Source: Pacific Standard

Prisoners across the United States began a strike Tuesday to protest poor living conditions and exploitative labor practices, which include paying imprisoned workers as little as $1 an hour—a form of what protesters are calling “modern slavery.”

Imprisoned protesters have developed a list of far-reaching demands, from better pay and voting rights to the end of mass incarceration practices disproportionately affecting people of color. While work programs can help prisoners develop job skills, thousands of inmates provide labor for the state without a living wage, labor protections, or bargaining power. Their labor is the only thing they can withhold.

The strike comes two years after the 2016 prison labor strike, considered the largest of its kind at the time, involving 20,000 inmates across 24 prisons. Demonstrations for this latest strike have been planned in at least 17 states, The Nation reports.

Alex Lichtenstein, a labor historian and professor at Indiana University, says he sees this strike as signaling an “upsurge in a new prisoners’ rights campaign,” akin to civil rights movements in the past. Certainly, this year’s strike was planned with history in mind: It launched on the anniversary of the shooting of prison reform activist George Jackson, and is planned to run through September 9th, 2018, in memory of the Attica Prison uprising.

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