The Pentagon & slave labor in U.S. prisons
Published Jun 11, 2011 9:21 AM
Part 1 of this article examined the use of U.S. prisoners, who are paid
slave wages for their labor, to produce weapons parts for the military
industrial complex. It is available at workers.org.
It is not only federal prisons that contract out prison labor to top
corporations. State prisons that used forced prison labor in plantations,
laundries and highway chain gangs increasingly seek to sell prison labor to
corporations trolling the globe in search of the cheapest possible labor.
One agency asks: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried
about the costs of employee benefits? Unhappy with out-of-state or offshore
suppliers? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your
workforce? Thinking about expansion space? Then Washington State Department of
Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.”
(educate-yourself.org, July 25, 2005)
Major corporations profiting from the slave labor of prisoners include
Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Microsoft, Boeing, Revlon, Chevron, TWA,
Victoria’s Secret and Eddie Bauer.
IBM, Texas Instruments and Dell get circuit boards made by Texas prisoners.
Tennessee inmates sew jeans for Kmart and JCPenney. Tens of thousands of youth
flipping hamburgers for minimum wages at McDonald’s wear uniforms sewn by
prison workers, who are forced to work for much less.
In California, as in many states, prisoners who refuse to work are moved to
disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges as well as “good
time” credit, which slices hard time off their sentences.
Systematic abuse, beatings, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, and
lack of medical care make U.S. prison conditions among the worst in the world.
Ironically, working under grueling conditions for pennies an hour is treated as
a “perk” for good behavior.
In December, Georgia inmates went on strike and refused to leave their cells at
six prisons for more than a week. In one of the largest prison protests in U.S.
history, prisoners spoke of being forced to work seven days a week for no pay.
Prisoners were beaten if they refused to work.
Private prisons for profit
In the ruthless search to maximize profits and grab hold of every possible
source of income, almost every public agency and social service is being
outsourced to private for-profit contractors.
In the U.S. military this means there are now more private contractors and
mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are U.S. or NATO soldiers.
In cities and states across the U.S., hospitals, medical care facilities,
schools, cafeterias, road maintenance, water supply services, sewage
departments, sanitation, airports and tens of thousands of social programs that
receive public funding are being contracted out to for-profit corporations.
Anything publicly owned and paid for by generations of past workers’
taxes — from libraries to concert halls and parks — is being sold
or leased at fire sale prices.
All this is motivated and lobbied for by right-wing think tanks like that set
up by Koch Industries and their owners, Charles and David Koch, as a way to cut
costs, lower wages and pensions, and undercut public service unions.
The most gruesome privatizations are the hundreds of for-profit prisons being
The inmate population in private for-profit prisons tripled between 1987 and
2007. By 2007 there were 264 such prison facilities, housing almost 99,000
adult prisoners. (house.leg.state.mn.us, Feb. 24, 2009) Companies operating
such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group
Inc. and Community Education Centers.
Prison bonds provide a lucrative return for capitalist investors such as
Merrill-Lynch, Shearson Lehman, American Express and Allstate. Prisoners are
traded from one state to another based on the most profitable
Militarism and prisons
Hand in hand with the military-industrial complex, U.S. imperialism has created
a massive prison-industrial complex that generates billions of dollars annually
for businesses and industries profiting from mass incarceration.
For decades workers in the U.S. have been assured that they also benefit from
imperialist looting by the giant multinational corporations. But today more
than half the federal budget is absorbed by the costs of maintaining the
military machine and the corporations who are guaranteed profits for equipping
the Pentagon. That is the only budget category in federal spending that is
guaranteed to increase by at least 5 percent a year — at a time when
every social program is being cut to the bone.
The sheer economic weight of militarism seeps into the fabric of society at
every level. It fuels racism and reaction. The political influence of the
Pentagon and the giant military and oil corporations — with their
thousands of high-paid lobbyists, media pundits and network of links into every
police force in the country — fuels growing repression and an expanding
The military, oil and banking conglomerates, interlinked with the police and
prisons, have a stranglehold on the U.S. capitalist economy and reins of
political power, regardless of who is president or what political party is in
office. The very survival of these global corporations is based on immediate
maximization of profits. They are driven to seize every resource and source of
Thoroughly rational solutions are proposed whenever the human and economic cost
of militarism and repression is discussed. The billions spent for war and
fantastically destructive weapons systems could provide five to seven times
more jobs if spent on desperately needed social services, education and
rebuilding essential infrastructure. Or it could provide free university
education, considering the fact that it costs far more to imprison people than
to educate them.
Why aren’t such reasonable solutions ever chosen? Military contracts
generate far larger guaranteed profits to the military and the oil industries,
which have a decisive influence on the U.S. economy.
The prison-industrial complex — including the prison system, prison
labor, private prisons, police and repressive apparatus, and their continuing
expansion — are a greater source of profit and are reinforced by the
climate of racism and reaction. Most rational and socially useful solutions are
not considered viable options.
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