“This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement. This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.” – Announcement of Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Work Stoppage
Set to take place on the anniversary of the 1971 uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York, the call for a national prison strike today, Friday, September 9, by those inside prison walls should not come as a surprise. It arrives at a key moment in the struggle against mass incarceration and prison abolition, as the Department of Justice has officially backed off private prisons, and the Department of Homeland Security is currently considering following suit for its immigration detention facilities, of which 62 percent are run by private contractors. It follows on recent mass movement victories of prisoners such as those in California, who won major reforms to solitary confinement and other policy changes in CCR’s Ashker v. Governor of California lawsuit in 2015.
According to reports, planning for the work stoppage and protest of conditions has taken place locally and nationally over the past several months, with the focus of the strike differing depending on the most urgent needs of those imprisoned. This could be rotten food in an Alabama facility or solitary confinement in Florida prisons.
But the overarching theme driving the call to protest is the “punishment clause” of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” This exception has given state governments and multinational corporations the ability to exploit prison labor, forcing those inside to work at wages far below minimum wage and often for no pay at all. A recent article in The Nation documents the depths of how exploitative and abusive this practice is, quoting one Texas prisoner as saying, “It’s slavery, there’s no two ways about it.” Meanwhile, mega-corporations continue to make millions off the backs of those in prison.
As the strike organizers write, “Prison impacts everyone, when we stand up and refuse on September 9, 2016, we need to know our friends, families, and allies on the outside will have our backs.” The Center for Constitutional Rights supports this call for a nationwide work stoppage and an end to slavery in prison. We highly recommend reading the organizers’ full statement about why they are striking, and passing the message onto others.