Georgia, Out Migrant Workers, Turns to Prison Labor

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Common Dreams

Georgia, Out Migrant Workers, Turns to Prison Labor

by
Common Dreams staff

Onion workers in Toombs County, GA

As Georgia's agricultural fields are finding themselves without its usual mirgrant workforce due to harsh immigration laws, the state is turning towards another cheap source of labor: prisoners. With increased privatization of prisons and inmates providing a "pliable" work source, Georgia's situation may present a harbinger of the kind of labor to come.

Describing if the program that has some of Georgia's "transitional prison inmates" picking onions is likely to spread, a WXIA Atlanta reporter says, "as long as labor shortage continues... this is going to be pretty appealing."

Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman write on the ubiquity of prison labor: "Prisoners, whose ranks increasingly consist of those for whom the legitimate economy has found no use, now make up a virtual brigade within the reserve army of the unemployed whose ranks have ballooned along with the U.S. incarceration rate."

"All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day," write Fraser and Freeman.

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WXIA-TV Atlanta:

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USA Today: State sending inmates to work Vidalia onion harvest

ATLANTA, GA-- The state of Georgia is using transitional prison inmates to work in south Georgia's Vidalia onion industry this spring.

The program is an update of a failed program introduced in 2011, in which the state sent probationers into vegetable fields to help ease a labor shortage that followed the passage of a tough new immigration law.

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Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman: Locking Down an American Workforce in the Prison-Corporate Complex

Sweatshop labor is back with a vengeance. It can be found across broad stretches of the American economy and around the world.  Penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work.  The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain.

Prisoners, whose ranks increasingly consist of those for whom the legitimate economy has found no use, now make up a virtual brigade within the reserve army of the unemployed whose ranks have ballooned along with the U.S. incarceration rate.  The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM.

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside.  All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day. 

Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance -- unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide.  Indeed, a sentence of “confinement at hard labor” was then the essence of the American penal system.  More than that, it was one vital way the United States became a modern industrial capitalist economy -- at a moment, eerily like our own, when the mechanisms of capital accumulation were in crisis.

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