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Incarcerated Organizers Complete Eight Weeks Of Prison Shutdown

Above photo: Activists stand in solidarity with incarcerated organizers outside of St. Clair prison. Birmingham DSA.

Prisoners in Alabama have been organizing for years against a prison system which upholds modern day slavery.

On March 30, for the eighth week in a row, a group of activists gathered outside of St. Clair Correctional Facility, near Birmingham, Alabama, to show solidarity with incarcerated organizers, who have been refusing to engage in prison labor since February 6. Organizers want to sustain the shutdown, which entails a full stoppage of all labor inside the prisons that prisoners are forced to do, for at least 90 days.

The organizers, led by the Free Alabama Movement, are living under the boot of the most violent state prison system in the United States—a nation know for having the largest prison population in the world and regularly employing torture and archaic methods of execution against its prisoners.

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has become notorious for running a regime of violence against prisoners, while employing those same prisoners in a system of legalized slavery. Incarcerated organizers in Alabama claim that ADOC keeps parole rates artificially low in order to keep as many prisoners in the labor force as possible.

The Free Alabama Movement has organized many statewide prison shutdowns throughout the years. In 2022, prisoners initiated work stoppages at every single major correctional facility in the state. In 2016, FAM organized a shutdown with participation from reportedly 57,000 prisoners—potentially the largest prison shutdown in US history.

Prisoners are now trying to replicate many of the same tactics as the previous shutdowns, by sustaining and trying to expand the shutdown of St. Clair, which began on February 6, for at least 90 days. The goal is to spread the shutdown to all ADOC facilities.

FAM organizers are intentional about their language, employing the term “prison shutdown” rather than “prison strike”. According to Cecilia Prado, of the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network, which has been organizing in solidarity with FAM, incarcerated organizers “are participating in work stoppages and boycotts, but they do not call it a prison strike, because they know that people on the outside usually have the idea of prison strikes being related to wages, or to better benefits.”

Prisoners “do not want just better benefits,” Prado says. Instead, FAM organizers want to dismantle the entire system of prison labor, which they label as slavery. “They want the massive financial incentive of the prison labor economy to go away, because it’s behind the fact that Alabama prisons are the most deadly, most crowded in the country.”

Organizations who have stood in solidarity with FAM include the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network, Birmingham Stands, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and the Birmingham Democratic Socialists of America, as well as students from nearby universities such as Middle Tennessee State University, Fisk University, Auburn University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Nashville State University, and Vanderbilt University.

Links Of Solidarity Drawn Between Prison System And Genocide In Gaza

Throughout the prison shutdown, FAM organizers have used their platforms to show solidarity with various struggles, including the struggle in Palestine. On March 2, Young Palestinians Of Birmingham joined the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network and other organizations standing in solidarity with FAM organizers outside of St. Clair.

“The Young Palestinians of Birmingham supports the Free Alabama Movement in their struggle against the prison industrial complex, which is one of several systems that support the Zionist occupation of Palestine and ongoing genocide in Gaza,” Hamza, the president of YPB, told Peoples Dispatch. “The St. Clair Correctional Facility in particular is the largest source of economic output from prison labor in Alabama. If the system can be shut down—if prison labor can be brought to an end—not only can incarcerated workers demand justice for the abuse and repression they experience at the hands of an oppressive system, but it would also be a major hit to the companies that supply ‘Israel’ with the weapons it needs to continue its extirpation of Palestinians in their native land.”

“Arms manufacturers like Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin not only profit from contracts with the US military, but also with the Zionist military. These companies create the jets and rockets that the occupation is armed with. The bombs that kill children in Gaza are made in America. Furthermore, these same corporations, along with many others, make billions of dollars from forced prison labor. Incarcerated workers are paid pennies to do work for companies that play a direct part in sustaining the occupation of Palestine and the ongoing genocide,” Hamza said.

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