News Article
August 7, 2017

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Supports Industrial Workers of the World

By X357058, X383824, X373817, X387362

May 24th – 29th CBTU International Convention – New Orleans: The recent work by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) has caught the attention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), bringing their support to the effort to unionize incarcerated workers. At their recent convention in late May the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists voted to support the IWW in the struggle, growing the prisoner unionization movement that has, until now, been overlooked by trade unions. The CBTU brings with it support for the implementation of collective bargaining and a minimum wage for prisoners, which can be viewed as a step toward prison abolition in regards to near-slave labor which prisoners currently perform.

Dee, an IWW member in prison, explains in an interview, “Labor unions can give prisoners more unity and more power to challenge the system that's exploiting prisoners as well as a structure to give prisoners power to resist collectively.The union has a role to play in building the sense of collective power, so that's why George Jackson thought prisoner unions were necessary,” Dee states. “The demands are many and varied based on conditions in different states and facilities, but take for example the demand for minimum wage, if they're forced to pay prisoners, and we can force their hand, it'll break down the prison system, because the prison system was not based on anything except exploitation of prisoners.” Prisoners are currently making between $0.90 and $2.00 per day. Furthermore, the prison population is largely comprised of People of Color currently (~ 66.7%), who make up only 36.3% of the US population.

Within the IWW, the abolitionist oriented Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is on the cutting edge of the prison labor movement. CBTU’s support brings a newfound solidarity to the union, and substantially expands the support base of the union and its project. Brianna Peril, IWOC outside organizer, responded to the news: “This is really exciting. One of our strengths as a union is our ability to explain to other union members how important it is that we start recognizing prison slavery as a labor issue. Receiving support from the CBTU is a huge step toward this overarching goal that we had from the founding of IWOC.”

Mark Maxey, an IWW member from Oklahoma says, “Within the IWW, members seek not only to organize the workplace, but also organize the working class. Whether they are currently employed or not. Many members view this approach as crucial to unions regaining relevance in a rapidly changing job market. The root cause is capitalism and its use of slavery, unemployment, underemployment, and human trafficking.  A remedy is to look outside traditional workplaces and outside the box creatively in aspects of the struggles of the working class.  This will lead to members of the working class who are jobless or completely alienated from their jobs seeing unions as an answer,” Maxey stated.

This remedy could take the form of organizing tenant unions, anti-hate support, clean water coalitions, all sorts of different types of community self-defense networks inside the working class, and especially in the prisons. The CBTU, self-described as “the fiercely independent voice of black workers within the trade union movement, challenging organized labor to be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of Black and poor workers”, fits well with these ideals of IWW members. IWW proudly calls itself One Big Union. The work of IWOC, aided by CBTU, will ensure that it really is One Big Union.

IWOC was formed in 2014 as a letter-writing program to speak directly to prisoners. Since then, it has already seen a successful National Prisoner Strike on September 9th, 2016. This year, the Millions for Prisoners March on August 19th will mark the anniversary of George Jackson's death, an early prison organizer whose death lead to the Attica uprising.

CBTU, which was founded in 1972, is the largest, independent voice of more than 2.2 million African American workers in labor unions today. With more than 50 chapters in major U.S. cities and one in Ontario, Canada, CBTU is dedicated to addressing the unique concerns of black workers and their communities. CBTU is a strong supporter of low-wage workers who are fighting for respect and the right to have a voice on their jobs.

More info on IWOC

More info on August 19th Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March

More info on CBTU

More info on September 9th

Interview with Dee from IWW and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak