Filed under: Action, Incarceration, Labor, Southeast
Prisoners at Holman Correctional Institution have ended their ten-day shutdown of the State of Alabama’s auto license plate plant. Their work stoppage, initiated on May Day, spread to Elmore, St Clair, Donaldson and Staton facilities over the following week shutting down Alabama Department of Correction’s (ADOC) canning plant, fleet services, and chemical industry as well as the license plate plant. “That was our leverage, that was our power to negotiate with” said Kinetic, a member of both the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union and the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). In an interview with media representatives of the IWW-Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee he explained how the strike achieved one objective but was broken by the unexpected employment of work-release prisoners as strike-breakers.
The strike achieved its first objective after only two days when the Alabama State Legislature killed the $800 million “Prison Transformation Initiative” that would have greatly expanded Alabama’s prison system, which is plagued with overcrowding, violence, deteriorating buildings and budget shortfalls. The defeated law tried to allocate ADOC $800 million to build four 3500 bed super-max facilities. Prisoners initiated their strike to draw national attention to ADOC’s problems and propose other solutions. On May 1st the prisoners stopped reporting to their work stations, and activists organized rallies and solidarity protests according to journalists who interviewed the prisoner’s spokespersons via clandestine cell-phones. On May 3rd, the ADOC’s new prison bill died on the state senate floor. Prisoners contend that their strike tipped the scales against the bill.
The solidarity efforts on the outside were spearheaded by the Mothers and Families of FAM with the support of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of the Ordinary People’s Society also represented the prison strike before politicians in Montgomery.
This morning (Thurs. 12 May 2016) the prisoner’s labor action ended. After eleven days enduring harassment and being fed starvation rations, a practice the prisoners call “bird feeding” the strike was ended by ADOC sending in work release prisoners as strike-breakers to take over the industry jobs. Work release prisoners are typically sent out of the prisons to work for either private companies or state institutions at reduced wages. The program is supposed to help prisoners transition back into society. Instead ADOC sent these minimum security prisoners into the prison factories to replace the striking inmates. Work release prisoners were first sent to Elmore’s canning and recycling plants last Thursday, then to Holman Monday afternoon. Without the economic leverage of shutting down the prison industries, the striking prisoners worried that ADOC could starve them out indefinitely and they slowly trickled back to their job assignments.
“If someone is performing the job,” Kinetic explained, “then the DOC is getting what they want, even though we locked down and going through all other hardships, our objectives ain’t being met.” By Thursday morning the strike had officially ended.