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(en) Organise! (Ireland) Working Class Resistance - WCR #3 - PRISON SLAVERY:

From Al S <klasbatalemo@yahoo.ie>
Date Thu, 11 Dec 2003 20:07:54 +0100 (CET)


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WHY PAY THE MINIMUM WAGE WHEN YOU CAN USE PRISON SLAVERY?
On 30th May Alan Johnson, New Labour Employment
Relations Minister, announced to a TUC conference the
government’s intention to scrap the so-called
‘four-fifths rule’, by which homeworkers and other
workers on piece rates receive rates of pay 20% less
than the £4.20 minimum wage. Homeworkers are generally
used to do simple repetitive tasks such as stuffing
envelopes or packing small components, just the sort
of work prisoners are often forced to do.

A hidden effect of the change in legislation is likely
to be that more greedy companies use prisoners to do
the work rather than pay their homeworkers the basic
minimum wage. One ruthless firm who [are] already well
down this road are the Hampshire company Industrial
Rubber. Last year an employment tribunal found that
Industrial Rubber unfairly imposed a four-fifths rule
by failing to negotiate a fair estimate agreement. It
ordered Industrial Rubber to pay a total of £140,000
in back wages to 63 women employees.

The workers were employed to trim rubber holders for
cats eyes, and complained that they did not even get
the £3.63 four-fifths wage because piece rates had
been made tougher after the minimum wage was
introduced. Prior to its introduction the women had
been paid an even more derisory £1.50 per hour. The
group of workers claimed they were effectively sacked
as work “dried up” when they took their employers to
the tribunal to enforce their rights.

The hidden part of the equation though, something of
which the workers and the tribunal were clearly
unaware, is that work didn’t “dry up”, the company
simply switched to an even cheaper workforce, who
aren’t covered by employment legislation, in the form
of prisoners. Undoubtedly more and more companies like
Industrial Rubber will do the same.

PRISONER JOHN SHELLEY WRITES ABOUT PRISON SLAVERY

Over the past ten years the prison population in
England and Wales has risen rapidly to a point where
it is now being described as having reached epidemic
proportions. With the government unable to cope with
the influx of prisoners and, in effect, having nowhere
to house them, it is once again, the private sector to
the rescue. Imprisonment is now big business for the
newly created custodial services industry with
companies such as Group 4 and Premier at the forefront
of running the privately managed prisons, and
Securicor dealing with movements between prisons and
ferrying prisoners to and from court. There is also,
however, another, more sinister side, that is not
immediately clear without looking at the wider
picture. The three main players have realised that it
is not just in imprisonment and custody that there are
big bucks to be made, but that prisoners themselves
can be used to generate even more cash to fill those
already overflowing coffers.

Rehabilitation programmes have been scrapped,
education classes relegated to the back burner and
skilled trade courses become a thing of the past. In
their place, production and packing lines have been
set up with pay and conditions reminiscent of
sweatshops in Third World countries.

The private sector is intent on exploiting prisoners
to fulfil its own needs, and it is aided in this quest
by prison rules and regulations making it compulsory
for all convicted prisoners to work. And since there
is no contract of employment between prison and
prisoner, there is no right for a prisoner to receive
a wage for the work s/he does. Instead prisoners are
given what usually amounts to no more than a few
pounds a week, and which the prison describes as a
‘gift’.

With no workforce to take into account when tendering
for contracts, companies such as Group 4 and Premier
are easily able to undercut other potential
competitors for the market share and have no problem
in winning bids for work that would otherwise be sent
overseas. These loopholes allow slave labour to
prosper in British prisons and mean that the
manufacturing and retail giants are shielded from
exposure.

So far the issue has been kept alive by Mark Barnsley
and his campaign against prison slavery, which has
staged a number of pickets around the country. Without
that campaign, the transition from what is now in its
initial stages in Britain to the full-blown version
that is already in place in the United States be
nothing more than a formality.

In the US prison slavery has become so heavily relied
upon by the large manufacturing and retail
corporations that they are actually helping to build
more prisons in order to secure more cheap labour for
years to come. A shortage of suitable prisoners to
fill those prisons has led to people being gaoled for
offences that normally would not have attracted a
custodial sentence. Prison privatisation and prison
slavery are one and the same.

By pledging your support to the campaign against
prison slavery we can at least bring this issue out
into the open and expose what has, until now, been
kept a largely private affair.

John Shelley, HMP WHIITEMOOR

******************************************************
Welcome to Working Class Resistance. The appearance of
this publication marks the coming together of the
Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, Anarchist Federation
(Ireland), Anarchist Prisoner Support and a number of
individuals to create a more effective and better
resourced class struggle anarchist organisation across
Ireland. Together we have created a new organisation,
Organise! - Working Class Resistance, with local
groups and individual members across Ireland.
******************************************************

>From the pages of Working Class Resistance, bulletin
of Organise!. To distribute in your area, contact
Organise! at:

organiseireland@yahoo.ie

Organise!
PO Box 505
BELFAST,
BT12 6BQ


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