Incarcerated Americans plan a nationwide prison strike starting Tuesday, Aug. 21 to demand an “end to prison slavery” and extensive prison reforms.
The strike is supposed to last until Sept. 9, the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising in Upstate New York in 1971, during which at least 43 people died.
Amani Sawari, a spokesperson for the protests, told news site Vox, “Every single field and industry is affected on some level by prisons, from our license plates to the fast food that we eat to the stores that we shop at. So we really need to recognize how we are supporting the prison industrial complex through the dollars that we spend.”
The nationwide strikes are supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a prisoner-led branch of the Industrial Workers of the World; and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates.
If all goes as planned, inmates across the country will refuse to work, and some will go on a hunger strike to bring attention to prison labor issues, and poor conditions for inmates, broadly, according to organizers. “Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society,” Sawari told Vox.
Paying inmates low wages is common practice in the U.S., with prisoners sometimes earning less than a dollar per hour, Vox reported. UNICOR, a U.S. government-owned corporation that uses federal prison labor, pays workers only 23 cents to $1.15 per hour.
“Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work,” said Sawari.
A list of demands on the IWOC website includes sentencing reform and more rehabilitation services, in addition to voting rights for people serving sentences, pretrial detainees, and ex-felons.
The protests, which are planned in 17 states, were organized partly in response to the South Carolina prison riot at the Lee Correctional Institution earlier this year that left seven people dead, and at least 17 others injured. “After that violent incident happened, South Carolina prisoners and the jailhouse lawyers group out of Lee County came out with the strike demands and really wanted to do something to draw attention to the dehumanizing environment of prisons in general,” Sawari said.