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.