Free market capitalism: Fortune 500 companies and privatized prisons have brought back ‘convict leasing’

Or you could call it prison labor, modern chain gangs, or even corporate slavery. You have to read this entire Salon article. It’s long but it’s so interesting and very disturbing.

Did you know,

The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM.

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside.  All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.

First, it’s interesting that it’s Fortune 500 companies leasing this prison labor at ‘subprime wages’ because it was recently reported (I posted about it below) that in 2011, Fortune 500 CEOs made 380 times more than the average worker. 380 times more!

And secondly, guess who isn’t making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses or manufacturing textiles, shoes and clothing? All the Americans who are unemployed. All the high-school and college kids who can’t find a job. Everyone who doesn’t have a job won’t be getting any of these jobs, because Fortune 500 companies want to pay subminimum wages to prisoners. And naturally these corporations then compete with OTHER companies and small businesses with their ‘slight’ subminimum wage advantage. The article describes what happened the first time capitalists tried using prison labor exclusively — this is a small excerpt:

[...] In the North, the prison abolition movement went viral, embracing not only workers’ organizations, sympathetic rural insurgents and prisoners, but also widening circles of middle-class reformers.  The newly created American Federation of Labor denounced the system as “contract slavery.”  It also demanded the banning of any imports from abroad made with convict labor and the exclusion from the open market of goods produced domestically by prisoners, whether in state-run or private workshops.  In Chicago, the construction unions refused to work with materials made by prisoners.

By the latter part of the century, in state after state penal servitude was on its way to extinction.  New York, where the “industry” was born and was largest, killed it by the late 1880s….

Here’s the thing — private prisons, like any corporation, are in business to make money. More prisoners, more money. And as this article explains, private prisons make money in two ways: from the state for warehousing the prisoner, but they’re also making profits by ‘leasing’ the prisoner to corporations who want to pay dirt cheap wages right here on U.S. soil. And as this article points out, America has the largest captive population on Earth to draw from:

[...] On the supply side, the U.S. holds captive 25 percent of all the prisoners on the planet: 2.3 million people.  It has the highest incarceration rate in the world as well, a figure that began skyrocketing in 1980 as Ronald Reagan became president.  As for the demand for labor, since the 1970s American industrial corporations have found it increasingly unprofitable to invest in domestic production.  Instead, they have sought out the hundreds of millions of people abroad who are willing to, or can be pressed into, working for far less than American workers.

As a consequence, those back home — disproportionately African-American workers — who found themselves living in economic exile, scrabbling to get by,  began showing up in similarly disproportionate numbers in the country’s rapidly expanding prison archipelago. It didn’t take long for corporate America to come to view this as another potential foreign country, full of cheap and subservient labor — and better yet, close by.

What began in the 1970s as an end run around the laws prohibiting convict leasing by private interests has now become an industrial sector in its own right, employing more people than any Fortune 500 corporation and operating in 37 states.  And here’s the ultimate irony: Our ancestors found convict labor obnoxious in part because it seemed to prefigure a new and more universal form of enslavement.  Could its rebirth foreshadow a future ever more unnervingly like those past nightmares?

Read: 21st century chain gangs

This country is going straight to Hell. There’s just no other way to say it. How many people’s lives might have been different if these Fortune 500 companies decided their overpaid CEOs really didn’t earn or deserve 380 times more than average workers, and instead invested some of that money into actually creating jobs for this country? Real jobs, with a living wage. Maybe our economy would be better. Maybe fewer people would wind up in prison. What if all the work that prisoners are doing right now for subminimum wages would have been available to them as a job to apply for, that they could have hoped to be hired for? Isn’t there a chance that their lives could have been different and the lives of all the people around them and, ultimately, all of our futures because of that?

Prisons shouldn’t be privatized, they shouldn’t be run for profit. They should be government run. Think about what a bad idea this is: setting up corporate prisons for profit (the more prisoners, the better!), then allowing those corporations to sell the labor of their prisoners to other corporations to make a bigger profit.

And you think I’m joking about the corporate-sponsored work camps we’ll all be living in some day, circled around blazing garbage barrels for warmth, eating our daily ration of Soylent Green.


Mock BP Tuesday

Obama’s Oval Office Address: 8 PM ET

His first address to the nation from the Oval office — about the oil catastrophe.

But first:

House Energy & Enviro Subcommittee: 9:30 AM ET

The Subcommittee will ask the “big five” today: is BP the exception or the rule?

TODAY — 0930/1330: House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on oil spill with heads of five big oil companies. Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Chevron Corp Chairman and CEO John Watson, ConocoPhillips Chairman and CEO James Mulva, BP America President and Chairman Lamar McKay and Shell Oil Co President Marvin Odum testify. Link…

Watch online:

Today at 9:30am (ET) on C-SPAN3: House Energy and Commerce Subcmte. Hearing with Executives From ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP America Inc. and Shell Oil Co.



[The Daily]

Tony Hayward: born lucky

Thank goodness he cashed in 1/3 of his stock one month BEFORE the oil disaster, before BP’s stock tanked, so he could pay off the family mansion.


Meanwhile at BP HQ …



BP may be barred from doing business with U.S.


BP Plc may lose control of its U.S. oil and natural gas wells and be barred from doing business with the federal government as punishment for the worst oil spill in U.S. history, industry and regulatory analysts said.

President Barack Obama and lawmakers are debating penalties that would cripple the company’s ability to do business in the U.S. as public outrage intensifies. In addition to BP’s culpability in the Gulf of Mexico spill, a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and a 2006 pipeline leak that dumped 200,000 gallons of crude at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, will figure in the debate. More…

Floating ideas

Let’s Move the Problem


The Twitters:


No one could have predicted


No, this can’t be!  BP put corporate profits over safety? Congressional investigators are saying that money mattered more to BP than rig workers’ lives, more than the livelihoods of Gulf coast residents, and more than the environment? Shocking!



BP knew its Macondo well was troublesome in the days leading up to a fatal April 20 blowout, congressional investigators found, but the company “appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure.”

Beginning with the company’s uncommon well design, to its fatal decision not to circulate drilling mud that could have cleared out pockets of gas and the lack of critical testing that could have pinpointed problems with its cementing, the company had many points where it could have prevented an explosion, investigators with the House Energy and Commerce Committee found.

Instead, though, the company violated industry guidelines and proceeded “despite warnings from BP’s own personnel and its contractors,” said the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and the chairman of the investigative subcommittee that handled the probe, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

Those decisions led to 11 deaths and the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and will continue to have an effect on the environment and even the future of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the two wrote in a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward.

“Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense,” they wrote. “If this is what happened, BP’s carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig.”

The committee will ask Hayward to address their findings Thursday, when they examine some of the root causes of the accident. The day before, Hayward is set to meet with President Barack Obama.

Tuesday, top executives with ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell as well as BP will on Tuesday face the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee. The grilling is expected to put the companies in the position of distinguishing their own safety practices from BP’s. It is the first time the executives have appeared together since Congress probed high gas prices in 2008.

Also I wonder if Tony Hayward will discuss that lucky break he got, selling  1/3 of his BP shares ONE MONTH BEFORE the oil spill (and before the stock plunged in value)?