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Legal Slavery in Modern-Day America: Corps and Government Pay Powerless and Exploitable Prisoners 23 Cents Per Hour

Annual revenue of the prison manufacturing business is closing in on $1 billion dollars off wages comparable to that of exploited and oppressed workers in Asia and Africa

Anti-Drug War Poster.
Anti-Drug War Poster.
By Terrell Jermaine Starr
If you thought slavery was outlawed in America, you would be wrong. The 13th amendment to the Constitution states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

In plain language, that means slavery in America can still exist for those who are in prison, where you basically lose all of your rights. (You don’t gain a lot of your rights back when you get out of prison, either, but that is a different story.) So, given the country’s penchant for rapacious capitalism, it may not come as a surprise that there is much of the American prison system that exploits American prisoners much like slaves.

In fact there is large-scale exploitation in American prisons benefiting American corporations and the military-industrial complex. UNICOR, better known as Federal Prison Industries, or FPI, is a government-owned corporation that employs inmates for as little as 23 cents per hour, to provide a wide range of products and services under the guise of a “jobs training program.” In theory, this is supposed to give inmates skills that will prepare them for the workforce upon release.

Critics of FPI have long claimed it exploits prisoners who don’t have the right to organize for representation to protect their rights and it unfairly competes with small businesses that can’t provide goods and services for the average pay of 92 cents an hour FPI workers make. The program employs around 13,000 prisoners per year. In 2013, it reported gross revenue of $609.7 million.
According to FPI’s website, inmates employed in the program carry out a wide range of services that include making house and office furniture, mattresses, flags, traffic signs and military items. These items are usually made for other federal agencies, but private companies can contract workers through FPI as well.

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