As prisoners in Alabama prepare to strike, this short article outlines some of their demands as well as the groups - including the Industrial Workers of the World - who intend to support them in their struggle.
Prisoners in Alabama, organised under the Free Alabama Movement, have announced they will be starting their second strike of the year this weekend.
Acknowledging, in the words of incarcerated activist Melvin Ray, that prisons are little more than a “free labor system”, prisoners at the St. Clair correctional facility have decided to strike.
According to Ray, an earlier strike in January drew in 1100 of St. Clair’s 1300 inmates and spread to two other prisons in the state. Prisoners are hoping this strike will be even larger.
However, this time around, the Free Alabama movement (FAM) has hooked up with the Industrial Workers of the World labor union (IWW) and its newly created Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. The IWW hopes to coordinate outside support, offer publicity, and generally be a voice for the prisoners on the outside.
In terms of demands, the prisoners’ overarching goal is to end prison labor – which, under Alabama law, can be employed by private employers for private profit – and to fundamentally reshape the prison system. In the interim, prisoners have grievances regarding overcrowding, lack of educational and rehabilitational facilities, and the use of solitary confinement.
Or, as it’s put more broadly by Ray, “When there is no focus on education or rehab but solely on profit margins, human suffering is inevitable.”
Besides organizing strikes, the FAM has posted clandestine cell phone videos of abuse by prison authorities, unsafe meat products, hazardous fire exits, and exposed electrical wiring.
Calling their actions a stand against the “new Jim Crow” system of forced labor and mass incarceration, the inmates have so far stood united across racial and ethnic lines in what they have emphasized is a “non-violent” action.
Where the FAM strike goes from here is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: from Georgia to California to Alabama, there is a movement brewing in America’s prisons. Perhaps the FAM, with their explicitly class perspective, can bring that solidarity and anger more fully to the public consciousness.