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Wilkes Barre Labor Council and Two USW Locals Endorse Medicare for All

medicareforallWilkes Barre Labor Council and Two USW Locals Endorse HR 676

The Greater Wilkes Barre Labor Council and two United Steelworkers locals in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, have endorsed Congressman John Conyers’ HR 676, national single payer health care legislation, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.

The Labor Council, comprised of 47 locals from 28 unions representing 10,000 members, endorsed HR 676 at their monthly meeting on December 22, 2016, becoming the 152nd central labor council to take this action.

The two USW locals together have more than 1,650 members.  USW Local 5652, an amalgamated local, represents workers in a variety of jobs including making shelving and heating cabinets for restaurants, manufacturing gears for airplanes, repairing utility trucks, and working at a correspondence school.

USW Local 15253 represents workers who do heavy highway construction from the Maryland border to the New York border and from the New Jersey border to the middle of Pennsylvania.

William Herbert, Treasurer of Local 5652 said “We’ve been getting ripped off by insurance companies.”  He told of the crises faced by even heart attack patients who are confronted with demands for up front payments as high as $1,700.  Herbert worked successfully to get his Congressperson, Matt Cartwright, to sign on to HR 676.

Herbert made the following statement on behalf of his local:

“USW Local 5652 passed a resolution calling on Congress to pass H.R. 676. For too long the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have been charging outrageous prices for their products. The bill would extend Medicare to everyone and eliminate co-pays and deductibles. We feel that this is the only way to insure health care for all Americans. If this bill passed, we would no longer need to negotiate for health care in our contracts. If an employee gets laid off his insurance would continue at the same level. We urge all Americans to call their Representatives in Congress and the Senate and ask them to pass H.R. 676.”

The HR 676 endorsement resolutions were signed by President Dave Brandt of Local 5652 and President Joseph M. Padavan of Local 15253.  Padavan is also president of the Greater Wilkes Barre Labor Council.

Issued by:
Kay Tillow, Coordinator

All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care–HR 676
c/o Nurses Professional Organization (NPO)
1169 Eastern Parkway, Suite 2218
Louisville, KY 40217
(502) 636 1551

Workers and Community Protest Job and Benefit Cuts

Steelworkers protest loss of jobs, benefits

JACOB TIERNEY | Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, 12:06 a.m.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review














Members of United Steelworkers and community supporters gather for candlelight vigil outside the Akers

Union Electric Steel facility in Avonmore, PA in protest of the company’s plans to lay off dozens of workers

and cut healthcare for hundreds of retirees. Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2016


Steelworkers huddled beneath umbrellas, protecting lit candles from a steady downpour as they held a vigil to protest layoffs and benefit cuts at the Akers National Roll plant in Avonmore.

“It’s just very unfair. I’ve got 27 years down there, my dad had 45,” said machine operator Jimmy Stine, standing with more than 100 people in the field outside the plant.

Union Electric Steel Corp. announced in October it would temporarily shut down the plant, which makes cast steel rolls, as it restructures to cut costs.

The facility will be closed by April 21 if the situation continues as it is, but it is possible a deal could be struck with United Steelworkers to keep it open, according to Union Electric Steel spokeswoman Melanie Sprowson.

USW accused the company of using the looming closure to threaten the union into accepting dozens of job cuts.

“It helps nobody for the plant to be closed,” said Lou Bonnoni, president of United Steel Workers District 10, Local Union 1138.

Sprowson said the company could not comment on layoffs or employee benefits.

“It’s a private matter between the corporation and the union, and we’re hoping our talks with the union are going to continue,” she said.

Union Electric Steel, a subsidiary of Ampco-Pittsburgh, bought the plant from investment firm Altor Equity Partners in March.

It quickly started eliminating positions, according to Bonnoni.

The plant had 198 union workers at the start of 2016. It now has 160, and wants to cut most of those, he said.

“I don’t know how you can run a plant with only 50 people. It’s ludicrous, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Sprowson said she could not discuss staffing numbers.

The company also cut health benefits for retired employees, Bonnoni said.

Bob Dobrosky worked as a heavy equipment operator at the plant for more than 24 years. When he retired in 2014, he expected he and his wife would remain fully covered under the company’s health care package until he was eligible for Medicare, the same as all retirees from the plant.

He found out in October that he would have to find his own health insurance, although Union Electric Steel would continue to contribute $500 a month for him and $200 a month for his wife.

“So many things in America happen this way, and it’s a shame,” Dobrosky said. “People work all their lives, and they just turn around and stick a knife in your back after it’s done.”

Bonnoni said USW is planning to file a lawsuit against Union Electric over the cuts to retiree health benefits, which the union contends is a violation of its labor agreement with the company.

“You’re talking about people who worked their whole life, and all of a sudden they had their health care ripped out from under them,” he said.

He said he hopes the candlelight vigil will be a show of community support that might convince Union Electric Steel to change its terms. He’s reached out to politicians at every level, including a letter to President-elect Donald Trump.

At the vigil, USW officials and plant employees urged Union Electric Steel to forestall its planned cuts.

Avonmore Mayor Paula Jones, a lifelong resident of the borough, cried as she recalled how much the plant has meant to the community.

Stine said he expects the plant will go idle, at least for a while.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people. It’s going to hurt this town.”

Bonnoni said USW is willing to negotiate, but not to accept Union Electric Steel’s terms that include mass layoffs and cuts to retiree health insurance.

“We have no problem giving our shirt, but you’re not taking our pants too,” he said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at (724) 836-6646 or

West Virginia Voters Wanted Bernie

Daniel Sidorick

Daniel Sidorick teaches labor history at Rutgers University. His book, Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century (Cornell University Press) was awarded the Richard P. McCormick Prize by the New Jersey Historical Commission.

View all posts by Daniel Sidorick »

The Guardian‘s West Coast bureau chief paid a quick visit to McDowell County, West Virginia in October to film a video for the news organization’s website titled “Why the poorest county in West Virginia has faith in Trump.” The video’s description promised it would explain why “Donald Trump was more popular in McDowell County—the poorest county of West Virginia—then anywhere else in America during the Republican primaries.” The video dutifully showed what the Guardian’s readers would expect: poor working-class whites in an economically devastated county, left behind by the winds of change and the global economy. The Trump phenomenon growing in its native soil. The video in fact did a great job of showing how working people have been abandoned when they can no longer contribute to the profits of corporate America. What it totally failed to show was that McDowell people were open to, even preferred, a real alternative to Trump and Clinton.

Trump’s alleged popularity was based on the presidential primary results, in which the Republican candidate won a total of 785 votes. Yes, 785 voters were enough to paint McDowell County as the poster child of regressive right-wing populism. Nowhere in the video or the accompanying webpage were the actual primary numbers presented, nor was it mentioned that Bernie Sanders won 1,488 votes in the same primaries—almost twice as many as Trump! Nor that in 2008 a large majority voted for Obama in the general election.

Why are the Democratic party elites so determined to disavow the party’s largest core constituency since the New Deal? Apparently because their strategists have concluded that basing their electoral strategy on identity politics will win them a large and ever-growing share of the American electorate, while a class-based approach, though it would directly address the needs and concerns of all working people—working-class whites and especially minorities and immigrants—would be an anachronistic dead end. Their media allies reinforced their comforting illusions with videos like this one that omit any mention of downtrodden working people’s openness to leftist alternatives. That McDowell’s residents cast far more ballots for a self-described socialist than all other candidates in the primaries should not be all that surprising in a county that took part in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in American history. Many of the comments to the video, however, as expected, denounced the poor white Neanderthals there for their obvious misogynist and fascist sympathies: “Ignorant foolish people”; “These are Clinton’s ‘deplorables.’”; “Now WV men can grope and rape at will”; “The nativist, racist and outright fascist language of Il Trumpolini and his promise the [sic] Make Them Great Again – based on their skin tone, unfortunately appeals to far to [sic] many there.” Would they still have made these comments if the Guardian had let them know twice as many McDowell residents voted for Bernie as for Trump?

Trump’s victory came from many segments of America, including some who embrace his proto-fascist rantings. But for millions of Americans who have been suffering due to the policies of both parties over the last few decades, many of their votes were a direct result of his promises, regardless of how bogus they are, to attack trade deals that hurt the working class, bring back jobs, and protect Social Security, along with his middle finger allegedly aimed at the elites and their establishment politics. The Democratic leaders made his job easy for him by derailing Sanders’ bid for the nomination and doubling down on their anti-working-class neoliberal agenda, aided inexplicably and shamefully by most of the top leadership of the unions.

Well, the media got what it wanted. On November 8, McDowell County, in the absence of a left alternative, voted 75% to 23% for Trump. For anyone who wants to build a movement to resist a Trumpian future, providing a real alternative politics to the millions who are suffering in our economy will be absolutely essential.

Progressive Elements of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform

AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders
AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders

Progressive Elements of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform

by Tina Shannon, President 12th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Here are the progressive highlights from the Dem Party Platform. I provide this as an easy way to know what’s in the platform without having to slog through it.
I will be working on a much shorter, 1-page, popularized version of more specific highlights in here to use at our Progressive Dems table at the Big Knob Fair. 
Progressive Democrats will demand that our elected officials and candidates support this platform to force our Party to allocate resources away from multi-national corporations & banks and towards serving us and our communities. Many of these points are very concrete and doable. In my opinion, making all Democrats in Beaver County and Pennsylvania aware of what’s in this platform, from elected officials to regular voters, is the next step of the political revolution.  


  1. Health Care
    1. Medicare opt-in for those 55 and older
    2. Public insurance option to compete with private insurance in ACA
    3. Allow states to set up single-payer healthcare system
    4. Repeal excise tax on high cost insurance plans
    5. Renew and expand community health centers
    6. Tax relief for caregivers to aging, disabled, or chronically ill family members
    7. Prohibit practices that keep generic drugs off the market
    8. Allow import of prescription drugs from Canada
    9. Fund Zika prevention and research
  2. Social Security
    1. Raise the cap on taxable income
    2. No cuts by raising retirement age, COLA adjustments, benefit reduction
    3. Adjust COLA to include healthcare costs
  3. Veterans
    1. Support the VA with full funding
    2. Oppose privatization of VA
  4. Workers and Unions
    1. Union certification w/ card count
    2. $15 minimum wage
    3. Oppose right-to-work laws
    4. Dues checkoff
    5. Limited use of forced arbitration
    6. 12 weeks paid family leave
    7. 7 days paid sick leave
  5. Jobs
    1. Independent infrastructure bank
    2. Build America bonds
    3. Clear backlog in land management agencies
    4. Make It In America plan
    5. Support Export-Import Bank
    6. Connect households to high speed internet
    7. Support NASA
    8. Federal funds for local youth employment programs
    9. Expand Americorps
  6. Economic Inequality
    1. Funding for family farms and environmentally sustainable farming
    2. Stronger agricultural worker protections
    3. Expand New Markets tax credits for small business
    4. Target 10% of fund to long term high poverty communities
    5. Protect SNAP
    6. Expand Earned Income Credit
    7. Index Child Tax Credit to inflation
    8. Ratification of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  7. Education
    1. Free Community College tuition
    2. Quantifiable affirmative action at higher education institutions
    3. Refinance college debt at lower rates with income based repayment
    4. Allow bankruptcy discharge of student loan debt
    5. Create fund to support Historic Black Colleges
    6. Restore year round Pell Grants
    7. Increase funding of Head Start, Summer, and after school programs
    8. Fund Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    9. Oppose high stakes standardized testing
    10. Support restorative justice instead of school to prison pipeline
    11. Oppose for-profit charter schools
  8. Housing
    1. National Housing Trust Fund
    2. Expand Neighborhood Stabilization Program
    3. Defend Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  9. Postal Service
    1. End prefunding of retiree benefits
    2. Restore services
    3. Restore supportive Commission and Board of Governors
    4. Add postal savings
    5. Vote by mail
  10. Criminal Justice
    1. Reform mandatory minimum sentences
    2. Close private prisons
    3. De-escalate use of force training
    4. Body Cameras
    5. No military armaments for police
    6. DOJ investigate all police shootings
    7. Improve public defender funding and standards
    8. Reform civil asset forfeiture
    9. Executive action against solitary confinement
    10. Expand re-entry programs; restore voting rights
    11. Prioritize treatment and prevention for drugs
    12. Remove marijuana from Schedule I
    13. Remove obstacles to state legalization of marijuana
    14. Abolish death penalty
  11. Immigration
    1. Clear family backlogs
    2. Implement DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
    3. Implement DAPA – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans
    4. DREAMERS – support state drivers licenses and in-state tuition
    5. Guarantee state-funded counsel for unaccompanied children
    6. Reject religious test
  12. Gender Equality
    1. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment
    2. Ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
    3. Appoint judges who support right to legal safe abortion
    4. Lift the bar on US assistance for safe legal abortions in developing countries
    5. Comprehensive Federal non-discrimination legislation for LGBT
    6. Support International Initiative to Advance Human Rights of LGBT persons
  13. American Indian
    1. Streamline land trust process
    2. Address chronic underfunding of Indian Governments
    3. Funding for Bureau of Indian Education plus self-determination
    4. Full funding for Indian Health Services, Tribal Health Services, and Urban Health Services
    5. Hold annual White House Tribal Nations Conference
    6. Establish tribal representation in the federal government
  14. Public Lands
    1. Establish American Parks Trust Fund
    2. Double size of outdoor economy
    3. Oppose Atlantic Coast and Arctic drilling
    4. Phase out drilling in public lands
    5. Protect the Endangered Species Act
    6. Support restrictions on discharges to Alaska’s Bristol Bay
  15. Puerto Rico and US Protectorates
    1. Equal access to federal benefit programs
    2. Debt restructuring
    3. Extend ACA to Guam, Samoa, Virgin Islands, Northern Marianna Islands
  16. Elections and Voting
    1. Restore Voting Rights Act
    2. Expand early voting and vote by mail
    3. Implement universal automatic voter registration (Oregon)
    4. Election day national holiday
    5. Fund HAVA
    6. Voter verified ballots
    7. Constitutional amendment against Citizens United decision
    8. Improve Census Bureau
  17. Climate & Environment
    1. National Technology Climate Summit in first 100 days
    2. Reduce greenhouse gas to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050
    3. 50% of electricity from clean energy in 10 years
    4. Eliminate tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels
    5. Include cost of pollution in pricing fossil fuels
    6. Convert Federal Government to clean energy
    7. Build and install half billion solar panels in 4 years
    8. Close Halliburton loophole in environmental protection regulations
    9. Honor local community bans on fracking
    10. Incentivize power line permitting for wind, solar, renewable energy
    11. Reduce methane emissions 45% below 2005 levels by 2025
    12. Support rejection of Keystone pipeline
    13. Oppose mountaintop removal mining
    14. National priority to eliminate lead poisoning in drinking water
  18. Wall Street
    1. More funding for regulatory agencies
    2. Defend Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    3. Reinstate Glass-Steagall
    4. Restriction from lobbying for 2 years
    5. Regulate bank execs serving on regional board
    6. End tax deferral on foreign profits
    7. Eliminate tax breaks to fund jobs programs
      1. Tax free overseas jobs
      2. Big oil and gas tax credits and subsidies
      3. Overseas tax inversions
      4. Billionaire tax loopholes
  19. Trade
    1. Review existing trade agreements
      1. Eliminate private courts
      2. Accountability on currency manipulation
      3. Strong labor and environmental standards
      4. Access to life saving medicines
      5. Protect free and open internet
      6. No contravention of local & national laws on environment, safety, food, health
  20. Guns
    1. Expand and strengthen background checks
    2. Ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines
  21. Military, Nuclear, Foreign Policy
    1. Strengthen the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty
    2. Ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
    3. Reduce spending on nuclear weapons programs
    4. Support nuclear agreement with Iran
    5. Limit troop presence in Afghanistan
    6. Lead assistance to war refugees from Middle East
    7. Update AUMF – Authorization for Use of Military Force – to be more precise vs ISIS
    8. Audit Pentagon and take action against fraud
    9. Close Guantanamo Bay facility

September US Prison Strikes vs Slave Labor

“A Call to Action Against Slavery”—We’re About to See the Largest Prison Strikes in US History


August 9th, 2016

On September 9, a series of coordinated work stoppages and hunger strikes will take place at prisons across the country. Organized by a coalition of prisoner rights, labor, and racial justice groups, the strikes will include prisoners from at least 20 states—making this the largest effort to organize incarcerated people in US history.

The actions will represent a powerful, long-awaited blow against the status quo in what has become the most incarcerated nation on earth. A challenge to mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex in general, the strikes will focus specifically on the widespread exploitation of incarcerated workers—what the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) describes as “a call to action against slavery in America.”

The chosen date will mark 45 years since the Attica prison uprising (pictured above), the bloodiest and most notoriousUS prison conflict. The 1971 rebellion—which involved 1,300 prisoners and lasted five days—and the state’s brutal response claimed the lives of dozens of prisoners and guards. The events left a lasting scar, but have inspired a new generation among today’s much larger incarcerated population.

Tomorrow (August 10), information campaigns, speaking events, and solidarity demonstrations will take place in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, California and elsewhere.

The organizing coalition includes The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), Free Alabama Movement (FAM), Free Virginia Movement, Free Ohio Movement, Free Mississippi Movement, New Underground Railroad Movement (CA), Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement (FICPFM), and IWOC—which has chapters across the country and with which I’ve been involved for several years.

FICPFM has scheduled a national conference September 9-10 to coincide with the main strikes, which have also been endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild.

These widespread and coordinated actions haven’t happened overnight; they’re the result of years of struggle by people on both sides of the prison walls. Significantly, it’s incarcerated people who are taking the reins in organizing the strikes this time around—despite intimidation by the state.

If history is an indicator, the state will do all it can to limit media coverage. So organizers inside and outside are organizing communication via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The “revolution” may not be televised, but these strikes will be accessible in real-time via social media, despite prison officials’ efforts to keep them hidden.


Leaning on History and Technology

Organizing incarcerated people on such a large scale is unprecedented for a reason. As recently as 2009, during my two-year stay with the Georgia Department of Corrections, simply talking about unions was unthinkable for fear of retaliation and isolation.

Now, not only are incarcerated workers in Georgia and across the country talking about fighting back against an unjust system—they’re actually doing it.

Many of us involved with organizing this wave of strikes weren’t even born when Attica happened. But we do have the twin resources of plenty of history to learn from and modern communications—especially mobile phones and social media—to lean on as we seek to shape resistance.

Attica happened at a time when, like today, racial tensions and conflict between police and people of color and poor people were high. In 1971, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were fresh in the public mind, and the government was systematically targeting and eliminating leaders of more militant groups like the Black Panthers.

Three months before the Attica Uprising, President Richard Nixon had declared his War on Drugs. The combined US state and federal prison population then hovered below 200,000 people.

Through the Reagan and Clinton years—which ramped up the drug war and introduced mandatory minimum sentencing—until today, that number ballooned to over 1.5 million. In total, over 2.2 million people now behind bars—in jail, prison,immigration detention, or youth detention—on any given day.

This makes the United States the world’s number one prison state and massively raises the stakes for organized resistance. Millions of people’s lives and freedom are on the line.


Earlier Uprisings and the Long March to Reform

The few improvements we’ve seen to the US incarceration system have been painfully slow in coming—and they frequently occur only after resistance from inside or public pressure from outside, like the 2009 Rockefeller drug law reforms

The Attica uprising led to sweeping changes in New York’s penal system, but many of the particpants’ grievances remain problems today. The demands of recent prison strikers strongly echo Attica’s Manifesto of Demands and the earlierdemands of inmates at Folsom in California: basic medical care; fair pay for work; an end to abuse and brutality by prison staff; fair decisions by parole boards; sanitary living conditions; and adequate and nutritious meals.

One of the clearest, and least known, examples of prison workers striking to improve conditions came from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) in 1975, four years after Attica. Incarcerated women there staged a sit-in strike against conditions at the state’s only prison laundry facility.

Their nonviolent protest was met with force by prison guards, who corralled them into a gymnasium and assaulted them. The women fought back, triggering the state to send in 100 guards from other prisons to quell the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four days after the strike began, but the prison laundry was closed shortly after the incident. [1. & 2.]

The NCCIW strike, the Attica Uprising, and the Lucasville, Ohio prison rebellion of 1993—the only major prison uprising in the US to be resolved peacefully— provide vital lessons for prisoners and their allies on the outside.

Siddique Abdullah Hassan, who participated in the Lucasville uprising and remains incarcerated, was recently interviewed by IWOC members. He expressed the need for solid support from the outside during prisoner resistance:

“[I]t is a sad commentary on our part, meaning both those people behind enemy lines and on the outside who are activists. When people step up to the plate and fight in a righteous cause, I think that we should not leave those people for dead.”


2010: A Flashpoint in Georgia

The wave of hunger strikes and work stoppages that have built up to the September 9 coalition began in December 2010, when inmates at six Georgia prisons refused to report for meals and work assignments.

Since almost all the work that allows Georgia’s prison system to function comes from unpaid inmate labor—cooking meals, maintaining facilities, picking up trash, repairing storm damage, and doing other work for county government that would otherwise be filled by members of the community (many incarcerated workers work alongside workers from the free world), even building new prisons and handling administrative tasks for prison officials—the strike made an immediate and lasting impact.

The strikers’ demands were simple and familiar. So was the State’s response. The Georgia Department of Corrections reacted by shutting off water and electricity to the strikers’ living quarters. Most of them quickly succumbed to these harsh measures, but a handful dug in and continue to resist.

The state retaliated against 37 inmates who were identified as organizers with extreme isolation and punishment.

Prison guards at Smith State Prison in South Georgia were captured on film brutally beating Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson with hammers [caution: graphic violence]. In what prisoners say is a long-running practice, the two men were isolated from public view and denied visits from family members and legal counsel until their wounds healed.

Three Georgia corrections officers were convicted in 2014 for an earlier beating, but justice continues to elude Jackson, Stevenson and their families. The Georgia Department of Corrections responded to the beatings by asking Google to censor the YouTube video.

Four of the original Georgia strikers, now under close security, staged another hunger strike in 2015. This time their only demand was that their security level be reconsidered, per state policy.


The Rising Tide

The Southeast, which incarcerates more of its residents than any other US region, has been a focal point of prison organizing.

Inspired by the actions of their Georgia neighbors, incarcerated workers and supporters in Alabama began organizing work stoppages and hunger strikes of their own under the banner Free Alabama Movement (FAM). Since its inception, FAM has organized for a flurry of work stoppages and minor uprisings at St. Clair, Holman and Staton Correctional Facilities in 2014, 2015 and earlier this year.

FAM organizers explain in this YouTube video why they’re organizing incarcerated workers:

“They [Alabama Dept. of Corrections] not gonna make this man go to school if he needs a GED. They’re not gonna make him get a skill or trade. They’re not gonna make him do the things that will help him be successful when [he] gets back to the streets. They gonna make him work for them and provide free labor. And that’s where Free Alabama Movement comes in.”

FAM developed a manifesto called “Let the Crops Rot in the Fields,” which lays out a framework that’s spread to prisons across the country. Instead of relying on support from the outside or passive actions like hunger strikes, incarcerated workers are utilizing the most powerful tool they have: their labor.

Incarcerated workers are paid pennies an hour—or not at all in Georgia and Texas—for often-backbreaking labor that keeps prisons operating and benefits the state and, increasingly, private corporations.

If they refuse or are unable to work, inmates say they’re subject to punishment, including “isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.”

FAM is also working within the system to enact legislation geared toward improving conditions for incarcerated people in Alabama. They recently presented the Alabama Freedom Bill, which would expand access to education, rehabilitation, and reentry services—services which are already supposed to exist on paper, but rarely do in practice.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a formerly incarcerated person whose organization, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), was a critical player in the early resistance in Georgia and Alabama, says: “They created the School-to-Prison Pipeline, we want to flip that and organize a Re-entry Pipeline.”

Considering the barriers to employment, education and housing created by a criminal record, reentry services are vital, yet the state rarely gives them priority—if they provide them at all.


An Alternative to the Silence of Mainstream Unions 

At a time of high tension, this coalition finds itself at a critical intersection of racial, structural and economic oppression.

Mainstream unions have been largely silent on the issue of inmate labor. In fact, major unions like American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the Teamsters represent corrections officers and police across the country—placing them in direct conflict with prison workers and the most marginalized people in our society.

These unions frequently fight to keep prisons open, even when their members are guaranteed work elsewhere. This effectively puts them in the same boat as private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, whose contracts often contain quotas which require a certain percentage of beds remain filled.

IWOC currently counts about 1,000 incarcerated members, a number which continues to grow as September 9 approaches. This  makes it the largest area of organizing within Industrial Workers of the World—a labor union controlled directly by workers which operates outside the mainstream union model.

Most, though not all incarcerated people have committed crimes—or at least, what are considered “crimes” under our current system. But they often do so out of necessity, sometimes to support drug problems where treatment or harm reduction services don’t exist and, too often, to support families or just survive in a system which discriminates by race, gender, sexuality and economic status, and robs anyone with a criminal record of opportunities.

Incarcerated workers are still workers, regardless of criminal records. Other than by ending or massively reducing incarceration itself, it is only by building connections between workers behind bars and in the free world that will we begin to reform a system that feeds on human suffering.


A Canary in the Coal Mine

September 9 could be the most powerful call in over a generation to reform—or dismantle—a system that IWOC organizer and Ohio prisoner Sean Swain calls a “third world colony” within the US and a “canary in the coal mine.” Conditions in prison today foreshadow what workers on the outside might face in the future, because the oppression inside is merely an amplified version of the oppression faced by poor people everywhere. In this way and others, this issue impacts allworking people, not just those living in prison.

Most incarcerated people will be released one day. Do we want people who are bitter, humiliated, lacking work skills and education, desperate just to put food on the table and at great risk of reoffending living next door?

Or do we want people who can work, who have ties to their communities, have maintained relationships with loved ones, and who have a vested interest in helping build stronger, more socially and economically just communities when they return home?

If we succeed in making the US pay attention to the events of September 9, it might just help the country decide which of those paths to pursue.


1. The New York Times, “Women Inmates Battle Guards in North Carolina,” June 17, 1975.

2. Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, “On the 1975 Revolt at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women,” Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford

Jeremy Galloway is harm reduction coordinator at Families for Sensible Drug Policy, program director at Southeast Harm Reduction Project, co-founder of Georgia Overdose Prevention, and a state-certified peer recovery specialist. He lives in North Georgia with his wife and three cats. He writes and speaks regionally about drug policy reform, harm reduction, his experiences, and the importance of including the voices of directly impacted people in policy decisions. His last article for The Influence was “Let’s Abandon the Assumption That If You’ve Been Addicted to a Drug, Total Abstinence Is Essential.”

Labor Mourns Death of Philando Castile

PhilandoAFL-CIO, Teamsters mourn shooting death of Philando Castile

July 7, 2016

The Minnesota AFL-CIO(link is external) and Teamsters Local 320(link is external) have issued statements mourning the shooting death of Philando Castile, who was killed Wednesday night after his car was stopped by police in Falcon Heights.

Castile was a member of Local 320 since 2002 and worked as a nutrition services supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.

“The 11,000 members of Teamsters Local 320 are saddened and grieving the loss of Teamster brother Philando Castile,” Local 320 said in a statement. “This is a tragedy on every level and all Teamsters are encouraged to keep the Castile family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Brian Aldes said, “Last night, Teamsters Local 320 lost a union brother and my deepest condolences are with his family in their time of grief.”

Teamsters Local 320 President Sami Gabriel said, “I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

The union also said that, while it represents law enforcement personnel in some jurisdictions in Minnesota, it did not represent the officer involved in the shooting.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy issued the following statement:

“Words cannot even begin to describe what Philando Castile’s family and friends must be going through right now. Minnesota’s labor movement grieves for the loss of yet another young African-American man.

“While our thoughts and prayers are with Philando’s family and friends, we know that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

“We need to begin by giving state and federal authorities time to do their jobs, conduct impartial investigations, and let due process take its course.

“However, we must acknowledge that a double standard exists for African-American men when interacting with law enforcement. Whether the bias is intentional or not, too many African-American men find themselves on the receiving end of deadly force.

“There are no quick and easy solutions to this all too familiar incident. These are complex problems that will require tough conversations and decisions.

“Minnesota’s labor movement remains committed to helping address the racial inequalities, in both the economic and criminal justice systems, that continue to persist in our state and nation.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO is the state labor federation made up of more than 1,000 affiliate unions, representing more than 300,000 working people throughout Minnesota.

Donna Smith, Single Payer Activist, is new Executive Director of PDA

Photo: Donna Smith with Rep. John Conyers, author of HR 676

by Randy Shannon

Treasurer, PA 12th C.D. Chapter, PDA

As a long-time activist in Progressive Democrats of America and the leader of the PDA Economic and Social Justice Team, I want to welcome Donna Smith as PDA’s new Executive Director. Donna Smith has been a national leader in the fight for Medicare for All and a long time member of PDA. She was featured in Michael Moore’s film Sicko.

Thanks to Conor Boylan for his work helping PDA through the transition from the tragic loss of our founder Tim Carpenter.

Tim Carpenter‘s last big project for PDA was to organize a national petition drive to convince Bernie Sanders to run for President. Tim’s vision is now a reality, and it is one of Tim’s greatest successes. PDA is helping build the grass roots movement that can produce a President Sanders.

Bernie has made Medicare for All a central element of his campaign for President. Who better than Donna Smith, shown here with Rep. John Conyers, author of HR 676 – Medicare for All, to lead PDA to help elect Bernie Sanders President and finally win the battle for Medicare for All.

Read the Medicare for All bill – HR 676.