Rush City, MN: Prisoners Strike Over Abuse & Conditions

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The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) of the IWW reports on a recent strike by over 100 prisoners in Minnesota.

RUSH CITY, Minn. – On Friday, November 30, 115 inmates inside Rush City Correctional Facility went on strike. The inmates, who work at the Anagram balloon factory inside the prison, stopped work for a day to demand that the prison administration come to the negotiating table around delays in canteen distribution and lack of accountability for abusive correctional officers.

For the past several weeks, inmates have experienced delays in the delivery of items ordered from the prison canteen – items including basic toiletries, over-the-counter medications, and food. Last week, Rush City officials notified prisoners of a sudden policy change under which necessities from canteen would be delivered two weeks after they’re ordered, rather than one.

“They just keep taking things away – privileges, flag time, then they overcrowd the prison and treat us like animals,” said F, a prisoner at Rush City. J, also in Rush City, said their collective action was “a message of unity between inmates, and across all the races.”

Their unity was not ignored. The prison’s warden, Jeff Titus, and an official from the Office of Special Investigations came to the prison this weekend to negotiate with prisoners, and again on Monday. Prisoners report that the Department of Corrections (DOC) officials acknowledged that this was a “peaceful protest” but asked participants to bring complaints about specific staff to them “directly prior to things getting to this point.”

“A prisoner at Rush City said their collective action was “a message of unity between inmates, and across all the races.”’

Abuse by guards with no recourse for prisoners has been an ongoing problem at Rush City, strikers say. On Thursday, inmate Antonio Williams was sent to solitary confinement for speaking to new prisoners about the importance of knowing their rights in the face of guard abuse.

Guards have alleged an increase in assaults over the past year, but many prisoners claim the increases are manufactured. They see assaults as caused by ongoing abuse from guards without accountability, combined with steadily deteriorating, overcrowded conditions.

Monday’s negotiations came to a close with prison administration officials saying they would inform prisoners of their decision on canteen policy by December 12th, and without clear movements on improving accountability for abusive guards. Late Monday evening, more than half the workers on Anagram’s night shift went on strike for a second day.

Prisoners we spoke with see the initial negotiations as a start, but feel the DOC is dragging their feet on the canteen policy retraction. “It took them no time to take it away and should take no time to restore it,” said F, citing lack of access to over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen as a major issue stemming from canteen delays. Still, participants look forward to further negotiations.

“Prisoners need to be at the table for any decisions made about prisoners, because we’re the ones who have to live with it,” F says. For J, it’s a question of fairness. “There has to be accountability from correctional officers too, and not just us.”

Contact: Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee – call 612-405-0347 or email tc.iwoc@gmail.com to be connected to in-prison press contacts Antonio Williams and Demetrius Dobbins


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IWOC
Members of the IWW have created the IWOC, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, which functions as a liaison for prisoners to organize each other, unionize, and build solid bridges between prisoners on the inside and fellow workers on the outside. Prison is a setup, a big business, there to make money off the People. Neither the setup, nor the slavery inside of prisons can be combated without the conscious participation of prisoners and the working class on the outside through mutual aid, solidarity, and the building of working relationships that transcend prison walls and the politics of mass incarceration. The IWOC has been actively reaching out to prisoners while at the same time prisoners have been reaching out to the IWW for representation and assistance in building a prisoners union. The IWOC has taken up the cause and is helping prisoners in every facility organize and build a union branch for themselves, which will together form a powerful IWW Industrial Union.