RICHMOND, Virginia – February 15, 2016 – Inmates of the Virginia Department of Corrections have called for an end to abusive conditions in a statement released earlier this week. Calling themselves the “Free Virginia Movement,” in solidarity with the Free Alabama Movement, the incarcerated workers within Virginia’s prison system have joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in hopes to improve living and working conditions throughout Virginia’s prisons and to repeal a series of state laws enacted in 1994 which effectively abolished parole.
The stated goals of the organization include an across the board reinstatement for eligibility of parole, the reinvestment of interests gained from inmates’ funds into rehabilitation, job training, and education programs, and an exemption for those with life sentences from paying 10 percent of their wages into a post-release savings fund.
“At every stage of the struggle, we have petitioned the courts, filed grievances, and patiently waited for the VA state government to take corrective action,” the Free Virginia Movement said in their statement, “But just like the institution of chattel slavery, mass incarceration is in essence an economic system which uses human beings as its nuts and bolts.”
“These people live and work in some of the harshest conditions in the country,” says Emma Rose, a member of the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers’ Organizing Committee (IWOC), “If anyone needed to organize today, it’s them.”
In 2014, the Industrial Workers of the World won wage increases for Whole Foods workers in California, a company that has recently come under fire for their use of prison labor in sourcing their cheeses and fish.
Due to the recent efforts of the IWW’s IWOC, approximately one in five members of the union, which welcomes workers in every industry, are currently incarcerated. “People are joining in droves,” says a representative of IWOC. “A formal network is growing out of the informal collaboration between the Free Alabama Movement and the IWW. It’s really exciting to see people come together to organize in places where 70 cents an hour is considered good pay.”
The union has welcomed incarcerated workers with open arms according to Rose, who says labor may suffer if they leave prisoners behind. “It goes back to the slogan of the labor movement, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” these are people fighting to have modern job training and to get paid for the work they do so they aren’t completely left behind when they get out. They’re paid pennies for work while we’re fighting to get $15 an hour for on the outside. Trump is wrong about corporations finding cheap labor in China, they’re doing it right under our noses and they’re using prison labor to do it.”
The full Free Virginia Movement declaration can be read at https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/02/16/free-virginia-movement-declaration/.
Want to Help? Donate at: http://iwoc.noblogs.org/donate