On behalf of the 1,200 members of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325, representing public defenders and legal services attorneys and support staff in New York City, Orange County, and Nassau County, New York, we declare our firmest solidarity with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, and all those incarcerated individuals and collectives who have taken up the call to strike to end prison-based slavery, the corporate greed that promotes it, and the institutionalized racism of the prison system.
In New York State, we are surrounded by products of incarcerated labor. State and municipal agencies procure a wide range of products – eyeglasses, vehicle maintenance chemicals and tools, furniture, textiles, and much more – from Corcraft, which is the brand name for the Division of Correctional Industries, a business unit owned and run by the State prison system. Our schools use Corcraft desks and our Sanitation Departments use Corcraft trash cans; government offices are cleaned with Corcraft products. The people working for Corcraft are performing skilled labor – sometimes in extremely specialized or dangerous jobs – for slave wages.
Working for Corcraft is sought after within the prisons because its disgraceful pay is the best available. The “industry” pay scale starts at 16 cents for the least skilled and experienced worker to 65 cents an hour for the most skilled and experienced worker. The non-Corcraft pay scale for jobs like cleaning and working in the law library starts at 10 cents an hour. The most skilled and experienced non-industry worker in a New York State prison cannot make more than 2 dollars a day. By comparison, the minimum wage in New York State ranges from $10.40 to $13 an hour. Under a newly enacted law, the minimum wage will be between $11.10 to $15 an hour.
Across the country we also bear witness to the pennies paid for prison labor by multi-billion dollar companies like Whole Foods, McDonalds, and Walmart. It heartens us and strengthens our resolve to see this resistance brewing from the most difficult of organizing conditions.
As we stand with our incarcerated brothers and sisters in their strike, we cannot help but remember the Attica Uprising of 1971. We recall that eight out of 27 demands made by the protestors were to remedy the fact that they were forced to work and that their labor was exploited – they made “not more than an average of 40 cents a day”. We think of how little has changed in prison labor since the time of the Uprising and how the people imprisoned in Attica now work in what may be the largest sheet metal fabrication shop in the country.
We also think about the brutal retaliation that protestors were subject to – sadistic beatings, starvation, isolation, sexual abuse, and more. We call for protection for today’s protestors so history does not repeat. Since our incarcerated brothers and sisters have put themselves at risk, we raise our voices with them to once again demand change.
We are no strangers to strikes. Indeed, militant strikes and walkouts were some of this union’s foundational actions. Our clients, and incarcerated people as a whole, have stood with us many times, and so we stand with them. In our 1973 strike that guaranteed continuity of representation, people imprisoned in the Brooklyn Men’s House of Detention refused to leave their cells in solidarity with us, while people in the Manhattan Tombs wrote a statement of support for our actions. We know too well that solidarity, a central precept of unionism, requires not just passion, but action. We will continue to act for our brothers and sisters, who we are legally, ethically and morally bound to serve – both in the courtroom and on the streets.
We encourage our members and allies to attend all rallies and actions in support of the prison strike, as well as to donate to organizing efforts here: https://iwoc.noblogs.org/donate/.We also call on fellow UAW locals to educate, agitate, and organize their members in support of this important and pressing human rights issue.
Victory to the Prison Strike! End Mass Incarceration and Slave Labor in Prisons! An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325