FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The New Business Model

by DAVID MACARAY

There are several ways to look at prison labor.  We can view it the way guards and wardens do, as having a salutary effect on inmates who would otherwise be doing nothing or, worse, getting into mischief; we can view it the way sociologists do, as providing inmates with marketable skills; we can view it the way taxpayers do, as a way for these useless reprobates to earn their keep instead of bleeding us dry; or we can view it the way working people do, as a genuine threat to their jobs.

While there’s an argument for each of those perspectives, one thing is certain: Because the U.S. leads the world in the number of people living behind bars, and because businesses already realize that plentiful, dirt-cheap prison labor could be a panacea, prison labor is not only going to continue, but as more inmates are “harvested,” as more of them are trained in diverse industries, it’s likely to expand exponentially.

The U.S. used to be recognized as the entrepreneurial capital of the world.  Today (thanks largely to our unenlightened drug laws), we’re recognized as the prison capital of the world.  Just as Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Peanut Butter fortuitously met to form Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the obvious next step was to combine the two.  Prisoners, meet your new employers.

Take the U.S. federal prison system, for example.  The trade name for Federal Prison Industries (FPI) is UNICOR.  As part of FPI’s charter, UNICOR is required by law to be the authorized vendor for many government agencies.  Prison inmates working for UNICOR are responsible for the manufacture of military apparel and metal office equipment (file cabinets, desks).  By law, private companies aren’t allowed to compete (even if they could).

Created by Congress in 1932, UNICOR not only makes the uniforms and caps that our soldiers wear, they do it for about one-tenth the wages that private textile workers would earn.  And because, as we all know, private textile workers ain’t exactly an overpaid profession, that means that there is no way in hell for America’s private sector textile industry to compete for that business.  Ever.

In flush times, this artificially lop-sided arrangement might not have been hugely important, but with the recession still stubbornly hanging on and with unemployment hovering at just under 9-percent, it’s a fairly big deal.  More ominously, UNICOR has not only been handed these federal contracts on a silver platter, they’ve been allowed to expand.

No longer confined to supplying government agencies, UNICOR is now permitted to manufacture certain other products if they can be shown to compete with off-shore manufacturers.  In other words, if UNICOR can make consumer products as cheaply as a company in Singapore can, they will be allowed to compete in the open market.

There are about 218,000 inmates in U.S. federal prisons, and about 13,000 of them work for UNICOR, whose revenue in 2011 was estimated at $900 million.  But this barely scratches the surface.  This only speaks to the federal prison system.

When we consider state and privately run prisons, the figures are astounding.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), there were more than 2,266,000 adults in U.S. federal and state prisons and county jails at the year-end, 2010.  A workforce composed of labor that potentially cheap is simply too rich a resource, too powerful a temptation, to leave untapped.  The demand for prison labor could explode.

The day could come where America’s burgeoning prison population is responsible for a significant amount of the country’s manual labor.  Of course, the irony in that is overwhelming.  The thought that those “call centers” in India were once considered a major threat to our economy seems almost quaint by comparison.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail