Thousands of prisoners in over 24 states began a labor strike on September 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, to demand better conditions and healthcare, the right to unionize and what one organizing group calls an “end to slavery in America.”
There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now, at least, which is the biggest prison strike in history, but the information is really sketchy and spotty,” said Ben Turk, who works on “in-reach” to prisons for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World union helping to coordinate the inmate-led initiative from the outside.
As the strikes began, reports emerged of several facilities being put on lockdown, some preemptively, but the only way for outsiders to get updates would be to call each facility and ask, usually getting no explanation about the reasons for a lockdown. Reports also emerged claiming that prison leaders in Virginia, Ohio, California, and South Carolina were put in solitary confinement as a result of the strike.
At the Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan, some 150 prisoners identified as “ringleaders” of the protests were also removed to other facilities after prisoners assigned to kitchen work declined to report to their jobs on September 9 and some 400 prisoners staged a peaceful protest. The situation there grew more tense a day later when prison guards went through the facility to remove suspected leaders, the Wall Street Journal reported, and the prison remains on lockdown.
“What people have to realize is that these men and women inside prison — they expected to be retaliated against, but they sacrificed,” said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a former prisoner and a supporter of the Free Alabama Movement, the prisoner-led group that first called for the nationwide strike. “People on the outside are not understanding they are being bamboozled,” he added, expressing disappointment that the strike hadn’t garnered more attention. “A lot of people are not realizing the value in what’s going on, they don’t realize that it’s slavery, that slavery still exists.”