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Mob-up: capitalism, workers’ power, and why the equisapiens are the least interesting part of “Sorry to Bother You”

mob up

Sorry to Bother You, the debut film of writer and director Boots Riley has been a long time in the making. The screenplay was first published in 2012 in conjunction with the Coup’s 6th album by the same name, part of a long and multifaceted campaign to garner enough attention to get the film made.

But we could go back even further and say that STBY was in the making while Riley was alternating between rapping and (you guessed it) telemarketing in the 90s. For him the Coup was largely a project of convenience. Filmmaking was the real goal, and music was an artistic and political outlet more readily accessible to young black men.

For the sake of this analysis, let’s go back a little more. Boots was a red diaper baby, meaning his parents were radical with considerable organizing experience under their belts. His father and Danny Glover met during the 1968 San Francisco State College student strike where ethnic studies were first won. Both he and his father were members of the Progressive Labor Party, an organization that split from the Communist Party USA in the early 1960s and quickly distinguished itself as a party of street agitators and militant anti-racists. Although they drifted away due to the burnout that goes along with membership in any organization that demands high commitment, their political convictions have not worn off with time.

Now, let’s talk about the film. STBY is mostly about the power of the self-activity of the working classes. The main characters are all the same class, all work together, hang out together, sleep together, and fight for each other. When they’re at odds with one another, they don’t take it lightly. Self-activity just means the agency and autonomy that all working class people exercise outside of the rules of class society, both informally as well as in organized forms. All of their would-be leaders, saviors and assorted rich people in the movie are, at best, a joke to roll your eyes at. And at worst they’re actively engaged in the worst crimes in history. STBY shows deep love for the underdogs, not out of charity but in solidarity, because Riley sees our class of people as humanity’s only hope.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Detroit says her parents wanted her to have an “American name,” which is a sardonic statement on what the United States of America is really about: hard work with unfulfilled promises, neglect, black suffering and decay that the city of Detroit has come to represent. She is the idealized radical artist. She is not all talk, nor does she make art for art’s sake. In the same breath that Detroit gives a Marxist analysis of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (putting it in terms of “capitalism started by stealing labor from Africans” … click here for more on this theory) she also extols her deeply held values concerning living life and embracing love and celebrating resistance in spite of all the oppression and misery in the world. Detroit is all at once a union militant who can reference Norma Rae, a Left Eye anarchist running the streets, and a working artist. Riley sees no contradiction in any of that. A shame the same can’t (yet) be said for the rest of the left.

In a Democracy Now! interview earlier this year, Riley discusses his own politics a bit, which seems relevant to understanding Detroit’s character:

I say communist because that’s really what all those folks are talking about. It’s really a result of anticommunism that people sometimes call themselves anarchists. A lot of people will hear this and be like, “That’s not true.” But it’s a way to say, “I’m not part of those mistakes that happened before.” In reality, we all are part of those mistakes that happened before.

Whether you call yourself a child of that legacy or not, you are. We have to look at those things. So that is why I say “communist,” because the world that even anarchists are saying they want to create is a communist world.

Detroit and Riley embrace resistance in all its forms, not to obscure our differences but to avoid the breakdown in communication between different political traditions that can lead to the destructiveness of sectarianism (the habit of divisiveness for the sake of promoting one’s own particular organization or program).

See this essay’s appendix for a breakdown of her earrings, by order of appearance.

Cash is bitter and alienated by his position very near the bottom of the capitalist pyramid, and he feels deep guilt that he is responsible for his own lack of success. He is literally “YOU” as spelled out by the only legible post on the bulletin board behind him in the opening scene. His name might be meant to frame him as pre-radicalized, a la Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) on top of a pun (“cash is green”) which suggests a blue collar pragmatism. He’s embraced by telemarketing because of an apparent moral flexibility when it comes to making ends meet. When he’s offered a promotion, he internalizes everything Regalview management says about his own individual success, and how it has nothing to do with his former coworkers’ struggle. Bleep, the only other black “power caller” is the hardened and weary future-Cash, having long resolved not to listen to his conscience even after he’s done things he regrets. He whispers his own self-hatred into Cash’s ear (“don’t do that thing … that thing where you fuck it up”) before sending him to his fully-dehumanized fate (literally made not-human by capitalism) as an equisapien.

Cash’s head bandage is worn from the time he starts to regret his decision to scab, and only does it disappear and the wound start healing after he comes forward with his video clip. His shame is finally healed by the truth and returning to his principles. As crossing the picket lines and losing Detroit starts to wear on him, the camera pans out the window of Steve’s party to the vandalized/liberated Worry Free billboard we saw earlier: “Show the world your response baby,” foreshadowing that the seeds of rebellion that Detroit sowed in him may soon sprout. In the following scenes he discovers the horrible truth about the equisapiens, which he then responds to in dramatic Detroit-like style. At the very end, as he unveils his “new” apartment he says “I couldn’t come back to the exact same thing, after all that, right?” Winning isn’t about keeping what you had, but about moving forward with what you’ve gained in the experience of the struggle.

Salvador is the heart of the clique. He values friendship and camaraderie above all. He admires the former football team’s friendship while Cash can only make bitter comments while navel-gazing at his own alienation. Outside Regalview after the first work stoppage, Sal expresses deep, heartfelt camaraderie with his coworkers. “Like I’ve known y’all my whole life, you know.” When the workers are poised to take action for the first time, he eagerly delivers one of the best lines of the film: “Yeah! I brought ALL KINDS of weapons!” Toward the end, when Cash apologizes for his betrayal, Sal doesn’t care about punishing his friend; only about being on the same side once again. He knows that their bond doesn’t rely on transactional rituals like crime and punishment/confession and forgiveness. Sal is kind of a simple knucklehead, which highlights his sincerity and allows us to see the plain truth in what he says. If he can see things for what they are, why can’t everyone else?

Squeeze, the union organizer (and a “salt” as it’s called in the labor movement when someone gets hired with the sole intention of unionizing) does what’s called in the IWW a very quick “agitate/educate” with Cash before setting up an outside-of-work meeting (albeit with a group while drinking–not recommended by the Organizer Training program). He hammers on the low pay as something that he knows is bothering Cash (agitate) and suggests a solution (educate). The bar meeting is where the two paths to raising up working class people are presented, side-by-side: a workers’ union, or a white voice (respectability/upward mobility). Cash’s response to Squeeze’s union pitch with his white voice foreshadows his selling out.

The workers’ first warning to Regalview is a textbook example of workers’ direct action (in this case sometimes called a “job action,” because it’s done while on-the-clock). Illustrating the old union slogan, “Labor Creates All Wealth,” they leverage their key position in the corporate hierarchy to disrupt surplus value extraction (i.e., hurting their bottom line by simply withdrawing their labor collectively). Workers are visibly moved by their own power in the face of their despised wage slavery and weaselly middle managers. There’s a beautiful shot where Cash and Detroit exchange an amused and excited glance, and literally rise as one as they simultaneously stand up from their desks, facing the same direction in frame. Cash’s façade of bitterness cracks with joy and astonishment across his face. Struggle changes everything. The job action has its intended effect of giving the workers a hands-on lesson on collective action, while leaving plenty of room for escalation. Notice the movie doesn’t start with a strike; the same can be said of any successful union campaign.

A word on the picket lines: these are very unusual for the contemporary US (for now). Most union pickets you’re likely to encounter are “soft” in the sense that they will eventually “break the line” and let scabs through after giving them a lot of grief. “Hard” pickets like the ones in STBY may use varying levels of physical force to keep scabs out, and the labor movement’s power has diminished in direct correlation with their gradual disappearance from the US since the 1980s. Elsewhere around the world, hard pickets are common enough, and their unions tend to be a much bigger force to reckon with. It’s also interesting that the Regalview/Worry Free pickets are modernized with a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) sound weapon in the background, and robocops in full riot armor breaking the line, suggesting to the viewer what one might expect should a militant labor renewal take place in modern times.

In the end WF is defeated by a united front of strikers, community muscle from the football team, Detroit’s statues (representing radical artists) and the newest proletarians, the equisapiens. Their unity literally overpowers the charging paddy wagon and pushes it back. Squeeze’s line “Same struggle same fight” is a classic Marxist slogan. As is so often the case in the real world, revolutionary power is unleashed when the whole working class joins forces with an insurgent striking workforce: the 2011 Egyptian revolution ended quickly when the military decided they would rather depose their own leader than have to fight the country’s increasingly militant striking workers emboldened by the mass street protests in the final days of the revolution. The 2006 teachers strike in the Mexican state of Oaxaca escalated rapidly after heavy-handed police repression sparked a mass uprising that became an anti-capitalist workers’ commune in the capital city, and almost resulted in the overthrow of the provincial government. And in May of 1968 France’s massive unionized workforce went on a nationwide general strike to protest police brutality against radical Parisian students, which led to mass worker occupations of industry as well as student occupations of universities.

More than any other film with wide distribution and attention in the US in recent memory, STBY is also very much about capitalism. We get the full experience: from workers’ day-to-day living under its boot, to the top of the pyramid and how they stay up there. The film is set firmly in our current capitalist dystopia. Cash is late on paying rent to his diabetic uncle who, in turn, is also way behind on mortgage payments. He drives his bucket of a car past shantytowns where they may soon live themselves if the job he’s driving to doesn’t work out, if they don’t “voluntarily” sign-up for slavery instead. We’re treated to the familiar corporate human resources gibberish designed to obscure and trivialize the basic facts of the jobs we’ve been forced into, and the economics that shape them, trying to lead workers away from the realities of the power of capital, so they’ll chase “social capital” instead. This is part of the larger capitalist strategy to sell working people on image over fulfilling basic material needs. Capitalism is more than just the New York Stock Exchange; it is an entire system that connects political structures, labor discipline and ideological warfare.

When the workers issue their first warning, Regalview starts immediately with a textbook divide-and-conquer union-busting approach, removing a social leader (Cash) which leads to dissension in the workers’ ranks (Sal and Detroit become at odds with Cash, even causing Detroit to leave the job—and the strike—altogether) while using  a token promotion to sow doubt among those workers who may be on the fence, by showing them that promotions could be possible for them as well. Management literally closes the blinds on onlooking coworkers as Cash considers the offer. He’s haunted by his insecurities and fear of mediocrity in the form of the football team who appear in the manager’s office. During the meeting he internalizes everything Regalview management says about how his success has nothing to do with the union campaign. After the job action a poster appears outside the office: “Regalview Team Members! Remember that the Team Comes First! Don’t Let Outsiders Interfere with the Team!” This is called “third-partying” the union by suggesting that union organizers are outsiders that don’t care about the workers’ interests as much as the bosses do, which is also a giveaway that the bosses don’t think the workers are anything but a bunch of dupes.

Regalview and Worry Free represent the evil heart of capitalism: cartoonish greasiness that can only be represented in the popular imagination by telemarketers scamming broke old ladies with hospital bills, and responsible for the very real crimes against humanity in our time such as militarism and human bondage. WF and RV also rely heavily on a slick image that STBY condemns in no uncertain terms as tacky as fuck. Steve Lift embodies the corporate public relations persona entirely, lying to Cash’s face about what he’s snorting, acting aghast that Cash would even suggest that Steve misled him, relying entirely on being convincing, reassuring and successful, and pretending it’s a normal business meeting while holding a pistol. Fittingly, he ends the meeting exclaiming “Go fuck something,” driving home that Steve sees other living beings only as non-person objects to be used, which is also a part of the movie’s running commentary on capitalism and masculinity. The elevator robot voice and Steve’s bevy of fuck-objects satirizes the corporate obsession with the appearance of male virility. WF’s “Responsible BabyDaddy” billboard suggests that not embracing slavery makes black men bad fathers, which is a statement on how the nuclear family model has been historically used to bolster exploitative systems wherein parent’s love for their children are ideologically weaponized and held to the head of reluctant workers.

Finally, a newspaper headline shows us congress doesn’t care about Worry Free slavery, paralleling the multitude of issues that the political class is either unable or unwilling to address. As the channels are being flipped in the bar, the only options appear to be MTV-style Orwellian WF propaganda, horrific game show spectacles, or the strike. In a scene in the latter part of the movie, cable news depicts glee and celebration as Steve decides to take the opportunity handed to him by the unexpected publicity and embraces his historically profitable crimes against nature. And no communist satire would be complete without having Steve’s unholy perversion sanctified not only by congress and the media, but also by the evangelical Christians that Cash encounters on the street. One of their signs references Revelation 19:14, which directs us to this Bible passage: “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”

Although the subject matter is sometimes dark, it is still deeply gratifying to see these themes get mainstream attention for once, especially coming from a director who has (many times over) earned the attention he’s finally attracted. It may be a sign of the times that we’re living in when a random assortment of left-wing Hollywood actors will take a risk and get behind an anti-capitalist screenplay by a largely unknown writer. Hopefully the same dynamic will take hold if the Coup ever tours again. The film’s soundtrack is fantastic by the way, don’t sleep on it.




MURDER/KILL: a visceral response to the first disgusting WorryFree commercial

Glittery penises: a message to Regalview after the work stoppage, along the lines of “suck it.”

Electric chairs: juxtaposed with WF ad/prison slavery, a nod to the understanding that life imprisonment is just another form of the death penalty.

“Bury the Rag/Deep in Your Face”: a line from “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” by Bob Dylan, a ballad about racist double standards and murderous impunity.

“You’re Gonna Have to Fight/Your Own Damn War”: a line from “Partyup” by Prince, appears in the art opening scene. This may be an antiwar reference since her performance at the gallery is also partly antiwar, or perhaps a reference to Cash’s decision to go it alone as he’s recently done at that point in the story.

“Bella Ciao” is an old Italian anti-fascist ballad sung from the perspective of a soldier saying goodbye to his love, which appears in the last garage scene with Cash when he transforms, foreshadowing that his war is just beginning.



Nazis Not Welcome in Hartford

Hartford–(Thursday January 11th, 2018) It has come to the attention of the Connecticut membership of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Legion of Queer Anarchists and the New Haven Anti-Fascists that on the afternoon of Friday December 29th, 15 white supremacists associated with an organization calling itself “CTVanguard” held a white pride demonstration. Beginning at noon at the statue of mass murderer Christopher Columbus at Washington Street and Lafayette Street, CTVanguard waved USA flags, held signs that read “we belong here,” and rallied for white power in Frog Hollow, a well know Latinx neighborhood in Hartford. In addition to glorifying a figure who initiated a wave of genocide and racism that still reverberates across the Americas to this day, they saw fit to denigrate with their presence the memorials to the 1798 Irish Rebellion at Heaven Skate Park, and Ancient Burying Ground which is considered an important African-American landmark. At various times anti-fascists faced physical aggression and hate speech while bearing witness on public property, but held their ground so as not to give fascists the impression they could march through our city with impunity. While no one was hurt, we will be doubling our efforts to monitor and oppose them wherever they go.

In response to this and other provocations, the IWW is organizing a series of public educational talks on fascism and anti-fascism. Longtime social justice organizer Roger Benham volunteered as medical support for counter-protesters in Charlottesville, VA this past August, and returned home to Connecticut with a renewed urgency to raise awareness about the dangers posed to our communities by right-wing terrorism. Following his September lecture hosted by the Think-and-Do Philosophy Club at the Mansfield Public Library, the IWW approached him to organize more such talks. The first will take place at Diaspora Multicultural Society at 90 John Street in New Britain, CT on Friday February 9th at 7:00pm, with a Hartford engagement to be announced shortly. Roger will discuss the history and ideologies of right-wing extremism in the United States from the 1930’s to today, and how we “not only as antifascists but also as working class radicals with a class-based analysis and liberatory vision beyond liberal democracy can effectively respond to them.”

Since June of last year there has been a steady and alarming uptick in white supremacist activity in Connecticut. The Islamophobic “ACT for America” was outnumbered by counter-protesters in Waterbury. Fascists from such hate groups as the Proud Boys, Identity Evropa and the American Guard were promptly chased off the New Haven Green by hundreds of anti-fascists. In October the “White Whalers Book Club” harassed the towns of Southington, Bristol and Newington with Neo-Nazi-affiliated propaganda that drew universal condemnation from the affected communities. And in November, the UConn College Republicans, hijacked by members of the extreme right-wing Turning Point USA, hosted Lucian Wintrich, white supremacist provocateur. Wintrich not only disparaged the humanity of UConn’s diverse community, he also assaulted nonviolent protester Katie Gregory, violently grabbing her, after she sought to end his deluge of racist, misogynistic and Islamophobic abuse. Since this incident, Katie been the victim of a coordinated white supremacist doxxing campaign that has called for her arrest and firing. She has also received death threats.

Upon learning of CTVanguard’s attempt to hijack the Irish freedom struggle for racist ends, this latest insult provoked an impassioned rebuke from the US-based National Irish Freedom Committee: “To all fascists, white supremacists, hate mongers, bigots, and sectarian mongrels; you are cautioned to leave our monuments alone, our songs out of your mouths, and our legacy free from your tarnishing hate speech. We unequivocally condemn your use of Irish republicanism, and your use of its monuments to our patriot dead.” (Full text below).


From the National Irish Freedom Committee (http://irishfreedom.net/)

To our friends and comrades worldwide who condemn fascism and sectarianism we extend our greetings and solidarity.

The reasons and lessons learned from Éirí Amach na nÉireannach Aontacht, the 1798 rebellion, led by the United Irishmen are as clear and present today as they were 220 years ago! The revolution was fought for the core values of Irish Republicanism, to unite the people of Ireland, regardless of race, religion, or creed; to unite catholic, protestant, and dissenter; to fight not only for Ireland, but to espouse the cause that small nations might be free.

It has come to the attention of the Irish republican movement in America that an attempt to hijack the good name of republicanism and connect it to white supremacy was attempted in Hartford Connecticut at New Ross park at the 1798 monument; the audacity!

You seonin dogs! How dare you stand on sacred ground in an attempt to connect your hatred with a proud and lasting tradition! We have endured plague and famine, language suppression, draconian laws, political persecution and outright war, our history is written in blood, and our legacy is written in stone! Make no mistake, revisionists of history in any form will not be tolerated. You will be exposed for the bigots and cowards that you are.

Furthermore we point out that all those who interact with fascists in any manner, using the name of Irish Republicanism, are by their actions undermining the cause of a free Ireland. We call on them to immediately cease their use of the historic and noble name of Irish Republicanism as a cloak for their sectarian bigotry.

The Fenians were the inheritors of 1798, as we are the inheritors of 1916, written in the
Fenian Proclamation of 1867 are the following words: “All are born with equal rights, and in associating to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it.”

To all fascists, white supremacists, hate mongers, bigots, and sectarian mongrels; you are
cautioned to leave our monuments alone, our songs out of your mouths, and our legacy free from your tarnishing hate speech. We unequivocally condemn your use of Irish republicanism, and your use of its monuments to our patriot dead.

An Phoblacht Abu, Long live the All Ireland Republic.
Cumann na Saoirse, The Irish Republican movement in America
Crioche (ends)


Community Self-Defense and Defining Fascism


An opinion from one of our members

I’ve seen some local far-rightists on social media harp on this line of theirs recently about how antifa (militant anti-fascists) just call everyone they don’t like a fascist or a Nazi as a way to justify political violence.

Here’s the thing though: you don’t get to be demonstrably a fascist with everything you say and do, but just call yourself something else like “nationalist” or “classically liberal.” Nazis have been trying to re-brand themselves since 1945 and have tried everything under the sun to escape the stigma of genocide. But those of us with a coherent political outlook know what hallmarks to look for. A fash believes individuals are responsible for the systematic violence visited upon them by the state and capitalism. A fash believes that people with different cultures and racial categories are aggressively destroying the social fabric of an imaginary national identity and deserve whatever violence they experience. Fash tend to believe heavily in 19th century racial theories that were used to justify slavery, Jim Crow, colonialism and imperialism. Alternatively, they go extra hard promoting more mainstream-sounding bashing of welfare and “culture of poverty” politics, all of which were modernized and appropriated directly from the old racial theories. Anti-trans politics have quickly become their go-to recreational activity, since ridiculing the most vulnerable among us has always been their favorite pastime, usually rooted in old-fashioned religiously motivated heterosexism and misogyny. And of course, no fascist would be complete without a profound feeling of betrayal, and in Connecticut for some reason that includes everyone left-of-center, who are somehow simultaneously “social justice warriors” who couldn’t possibly be sincere about being outraged at injustice; who are just protesting to feel good, and also get paid by George Soros (a revamped stand-in for the Rothschilds, gotta love that thinly-veiled antisemitism now that they’re fighting Islam shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel); and are also violent extremists, which they somehow tie-in to Cold War-era anticommunism. Another hallmark is utter incoherence.

Most of these hallmarks are unremarkable and should be challenged through conventional means, up until the point where they’re mobilized to appeal to these worst aspects of the human experience in order to recruit and organize toward a violent agenda. I should also be clear that mobilizing people around such American-as-apple-pie agendas as Islamophobia amounts to incitement. This should be fully evident with the abundance of terrorist attacks on mosques, Islamic centers and innocent individuals. So not all fascists are necessarily going to look like Nazi gangs going full Kristallnacht, but all of them are essentially working toward the goal of ethno-religious cleansing, through legislation and/or terrorism. And that is why we deny them a platform.


Incarcerated workers strike across the United States on September 9th


[From the Fall 2016 issue of The Industrial Worker magazine]

By FW Mike L. of IWOC, outside editor of The Incarcerated Worker

“Prisoners are now realizing that by withholding their labor they have the power to shut down prisons and get the authorities, at the very least, to reevaluate the prison slave labor system. In essence, they are realizing that striking is a necessary stepping stone in changing the prison system and the dynamics of prison slave labor.” – Phillip Ruiz, former incarcerated worker and a member of the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), in “Why Prison Strikes Are Necessary: An Ex-Prisoner’s Experience.”

On the night before Sept. 9, 2016—the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising and the date set for a national prisoner labor strike—a riot erupted at Holmes Correctional Institution in Florida. More than 400 incarcerated workers rose up in rebellion, barricades were built, cameras were broken, fires were set, and all hell broke loose. Rapid response teams were called in from five different county prisons to put down the rebellion. No matter what, the seal had been broken at that point and the spirit of Attica was now in the air! The flames from this rebellion in Florida would light the torch for what would become the largest prisoner strike in U.S. history.

By the next morning, Free Alabama Movement (FAM), one of the main organizing groups for the strike and a building force for IWOC, sent out an immediate press release for the national strike. FAM also reported a full shut-down of Holman Correctional Institution, one of the most infamous prisons in Alabama and a key organizing site of FAM. A FAM committee from Holman reported: “Sept. 9, all prisoners at Holman Prison refused to report to their prison jobs without incident. With the rising of the sun came an eerie silence as the men at Holman laid on their racks reading or sleeping. Officers are performing all tasks.”

The Carolinas flamed up with strike activity. North Carolina reported people refusing to go to work, but no major lockdown. The South Carolina strikers released a list of demands drafted by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an allied group of IWOC. “End of prison slavery” was one of the core demands of the list released. South Carolina continues to grow as a major powerhouse of the strike. The Virginia branch of IWOC reported that the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women joined the strike, and a women’s prison in California went on hunger strike in solidarity. The infamous Merced County Jail in California also joined in the national strike via mass hunger strike. Political prisoner Chelsea Manning was on strike for her rights to gender reassignment surgery and inmates at Guantanamo Bay were also on strike, but both of these strikes may not be directly related to the national strike. However, Manning did win her rights to surgery.

Meanwhile, demonstrations all over the United States erupted. Nearly every major city had a noise demo outside of a jail or another site related to the prison industrial complex. One of the most charismatic demonstrations came from Oakland. Oakland had a demonstration with more than 300 people, and as the tension escalated, major damages were hit against prison profiteers such as Bank of America, which was torched. Comrades throughout the globe came out in support of the strike. Countries in Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Serbia and others held banner drops and demonstrations outside of U.S. embassies. Greek comrades had a demonstration outside of a women’s penitentiary, and cell blocks of radical Greek incarcerated workers from Korydallos sent a salute to the strike. On Oct. 1, the same blocks joined in the strike in solidarity, by refusing work and kicking all the guards out of the blocks.

On Sept. 11, the strike expanded to other states, including a large uprising at one of the major detention centers in Michigan called the Kinross Correctional Facility. Approximately 400 incarcerated workers refused to work and started a protest march. The situation escalated into fires being set, barricades built, and several rapid response teams being brought in from other prisons throughout the state to end the rebellion. According to media sources, 1,200 incarcerated workers participated in the rebellion, and 150 of them were transferred as targeted agitators of the strike.

As the strike continued throughout the first month, several states such as Washington, Nebraska, Texas and others were reported to have strike activity. IWOC members on the outside called prisons to find out which ones were on lockdown and conducted other extensive research to accumulate the actual impact of the strike. Our initial research estimated approximately 27 different prisons with more than 27,000 prisoners affected by the strike, but this number later increased to be an estimate near 47,000 prisoners and 49 different facilities affected.

The strike at Holman in Alabama escalated when the prison guards went on strike. By the first week of October, no guards were on duty. The warden was left with the task of pulling out the food cart to the striking incarcerated workers. This is the first time in Alabama’s history that prison guards have gone on strike, according to news site “It’s Going Down,” and it’s even more stunning under the pretense of a national prisoner strike. South Carolina incarcerated workers continued their strike, earning their place as one of the longest work-stoppages held by prisoners in the national strike, according to IWOC. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak members of the strike began sending out live tweets from South Carolina prisons, giving updates on the strike. One of the most inspiring tweets was a repost of incarcerated workers fighting back against guards who tried to break the strike with violence, as seen here:

untitledOn that note, it is of grave importance to shed light on the repression that theses brave incarcerated workers faced. Theses brave souls risked life and death to bring this struggle to the ends of the Earth! One of the fist repressions was political prisoner, Lucasville Uprising veteran and IWW incarcerated worker organizer Imam Hasan, who was sent to the hole and faced interrogation by both Ohio state authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in regards to the strike. He faced Islamophobic accusations by the Ohio State Penitentiary that he encouraged a suicide bomb attack on Sept. 9. Imam Hasan and his Muslim brothers went on hunger strike when the prison authorities threatened to cut off their rights. He was later faced with more threats by the prison authorities for his communication with media outlets such as National Public Radio (NPR), in promotion of the prisoners’ strike. Outside support of IWOC did play an important role in minimizing the repression. Prisoners from South Carolina to Alabama and beyond gave thanks for the phone zaps and call-ins. These efforts made sure prisoners could eat and shower, and they even got some incarcerated worker organizers such as Michael Kimble, a gay anarchist supporter of FAM, released from solitary confinement. Though these may feel like liberal tactics, they are of utmost importance; they are like laying down covering fire for our incarcerated comrades in the trenches. We must keep in mind that in Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, an ongoing hunger strike called the “Dying to Live” strike, which was led by brave incarcerated workers like Caesar DeLeon, has been going on since June. They’re facing intensive retaliation, including forced feedings.

So finally, it looks like the One Big Union is making a comeback by organizing not just wage slaves, but workers who are literally slaves by the U.S. constitution. This strike has made history and its revolutionary momentum is still burning, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. We may not have dismantled the prison industrial complex or abolished prison slavery entirely, but the striking incarcerated workers along with the help of our union have accelerated us past a point of no return in the fight for abolition!


LET THE CROPS ROT IN THE FIELDS!                          

IWOC letter-writing parties, background info

Click here for the report on the national prison strike from Industrial Worker magazine!
Click here for info on the Saturday 12/17 letter-writing party, and here for Sunday 12/18.

IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) statement of purpose:


  1. To further the revolutionary goals of incarcerated people and the IWW through mutual organizing of a worldwide union for emancipation from the prison system.
  2. To build class solidarity amongst members of the working class by connecting the struggle of people in prison, jails, and immigrant and juvenile detention centers to workers struggles
    locally and worldwide.
  3. To strategically and tactically support prisoners locally and worldwide, incorporating an analysis of white supremacy, patriarchy, prison culture, and capitalism.
  4. To actively struggle to end the criminalization, exploitation, and enslavement of working class people, which disproportionately targets people of color, immigrants, people with low income, LGBTQ people, young people, dissidents, and those with mental illness.
  5. To amplify the voices of working class people in prison, especially those engaging in collective action or who put their own lives at risk to improve the conditions of all.


Prisoners are on the front lines of wage slavery and forced slave labor where

refusal to work while in prison results in inhumane retaliation and participating

in slave labor contributes to the mechanisms of exploitation. The Industrial

Workers of the World (IWW) has consciously grasped the importance of

organizing prisoners so that prisoners can directly challenge prison slavery, work

conditions, and the system itself: break cycles of criminalization, exploitation,

and the state‐sponsored divisions of our working class. At the same time, the

prison environment and culture is a melting pot of capitalistic and exploitative

tactics and all forms of oppression. These poisons must be challenged in prisons,

institutions, and in all of us through organized working‐class solidarity.

Members of the IWW have created the IWOC, the Incarcerated Workers

Organizing Committee, which functions as a liaison for prisoners to organize

each other, unionize, and build solid bridges between prisoners on the inside

and fellow workers on the outside. Prison is a setup, a big business, there to

make money off the People. Neither the setup nor the slavery inside of prisons

can be combated without the conscious participation of prisoners and the

working class on the outside through mutual aid, solidarity, and the building of

working relationships that transcend prison walls and the politics of mass

incarceration. The IWOC has been actively reaching out to prisoners while at the

same time prisoners have been reaching out to the IWW for representation and

assistance in building a prisoners union. The IWOC has taken up the cause and is

helping prisoners in every facility organize and build a union branch for

themselves, which will together form a powerful IWW Industrial Union.

To achieve this cage slave / wage slave alliance, the IWOC is accepting IWW

membership applications from prisoners who agree with the IWW Constitution

and believe that, to truly change prison conditions, prisoners must be organized

and working towards such goals with the help and support of the working class

on the outside. Prisoners will be full‐fledged members of the IWW with their

own local prison branch to maintain and develop and will have the same rights

and responsibilities of members on the outside. However, due the exploitative

nature of the prison system, prisoners are granted free IWW membership and

will not be required to pay dues while in prison. Outside members of the IWOC

will be in direct communication with prisoners and provide organizing training,

support, and guidance in union building, solidarity, and collaborative actions.

We have a world to win and nothing to lose but our chains. In every ghetto,

barrio, trailer park, and prison cell, working‐class solidarity will prevail!



Kansas City IWOC’s Frequently Asked Questions

Who are you? I am a member of the Greater KC Industrial Workers of the World.

The IWW is an organization for all working class people around the world, with

only a few exceptions. When I say working class, I mean everyone who is not in

the employing or owning class. This includes Prisoner Workers, the unemployed,

and the under‐employed. There are IWW branches in many places around the

world. Each one functions relatively independently but they all function

according to the same core principles and together they form a community of

support around the world.


Why are you writing as an individual instead of writing as a representative of

your organization? The IWW and all of its committees and offices are horizontal.

A horizontal structure is different from a top‐down structure. It means that we

make decisions together in groups rather than having one person at the top

telling everyone else underneath them what to do. This means that we can

either make decisions as a large group or we can form a committee and make

decisions as smaller groups. This can be time consuming and sometimes

individuals just make statements as individuals in our own personal capacity. In

this case, I am writing in my own personal capacity because I feel confident that

my opinions on these matters are in line with the overall intent of the

organization. I will share this letter with others in the IWW and welcome

constructive feedback on ways to make it better. Over time, as we learn and

progress, this letter may become official literature endorsed by the organization.

Or not. Either way is fine with me because what matters most is getting the

work done! Horizontal organizing involves a lot of personal trust in individuals

and also a lot of individual responsibility. That is what makes it work.

Why are you using the phrase “Prisoner Workers”? I do this as a reminder that

we are all working class people and we have that in common whether an

individual person is actually working or not.



Why are you writing to Prisoner Workers? It is important that workers on the

outside offer support and also help build communities of support on the inside

because we are all workers and our fates are tied together. Workers need

communities of support that function both on the inside and on the outside

because an injury to one is an injury to all.


Can you get me a job when I get out? We can help by sending you help wanted

ads and providing references for people who maintain membership and work

toward helping developing this program.


Can you find me a girlfriend/boyfriend/life‐partner? No, however, if you would

like to correspond socially with activists, you may submit an ad to James

Dawson’s Zine. He will list you in his publication if you send an ad (up to 50

words) and 10 stamps to James N Dawson, PO Box 950, Spokane, WA, 99210.


Out of all the Prisoner Workers in the world, why are you reaching out to me?

We receive names to add to our program in various ways. People on the outside

may recommend friends or family on the inside or someone on the inside may

have sent us your name. We also receive requests from people who read about

individual prisoner struggles.


Why are different people writing to me? Are you sharing my letters with other

people? Yes, all letters are viewed by at least two people. The person who

checks our PO Box scans all letters to see if there are urgent situations and then

the letters are distributed to the actual recipients. One of the aims of the letters

to Prisoner Workers program is to get as many people as possible involved in

helping build communities of support so we use letters to try and get more

people involved. Everyone who uses our PO Box is part of our writing group and

you may put all return correspondence in one envelope and address it to any of

us or to the organization.


Why did I receive information about various unrelated topics or organizations?

We have found that we can put 5 regular sheets of paper into an envelope and

send it with one regular postage stamp. Some of us will put in trivia, pictures,

news articles, or other random things of interest so we get the most possible use

out of each stamp.


Why should I trust you? I recommend only saying and doing things that you are

comfortable with. It takes time to get to know people and organizations. We do

not encourage or condone anything illegal and will never at any point knowingly

do anything to cause injury or retaliation against anyone. We do not know

everything though. If you feel unsafe as a result of anything we do, please let us

know and we will correct ourselves!


What do you do? We write letters to Prisoner Workers, try to help remedy

Prisoner Worker grievances by writing letters to the officials, alert the public to conditions that you tell us to publicize, accept letters from prisoners that you

want us mail to various officials or copy and distribute to others to mail in

multiple copies. We can handle your grievances much faster if you write the

letter you want sent, provide the address where you want it sent, and we can

just send it in. We do not have enough people to help write letters, so we may

be slow to respond sometimes. If you want your letter or portions of it to be

made public please say so clearly in your letter. Also please say whether or not

you want your name to be publicized or if you want to remain anonymous. We

do not publicize anything without permission.


How do you prioritize which letters to answer first? Priority goes to situations

wherein multiple Prisoner Workers write in together or at the same time about a

single incident or list of conditions that they would like to have publicized. In

these cases, we try to publicize the information immediately upon receipt and

then go back and start responding to the letters so even if you do not hear back

right away, that does not mean we are not working on it. After the collective

complaints are handled, we respond to letters regarding individual

circumstances. We answer the easiest ones first and then the more complex

ones in the order they are received. With very complex situations or if you have

numerous requests, we will try to find a personal advocate to work with you.

Can you put my poems/songs/essays/grievances on the internet and/or in

your newsletter? Yes! Just state clearly what portions of your letter you want

publicized and also whether or not you want your name to be publicized with it.

Can you put my court case on the internet? Yes, but we receive a lot of requests

for this and we have not had any success getting attention for any of them. We

can not build a web site or promote any cases. We can only scan the documents

you send and post them online.


Can you find me a lawyer? No. We can send lists of lawyers in the city/state of

your choosing for you to contact but the only lawyers we have are labor lawyers.

What is IWOC? It is the title of the IWW committee that is specifically for people

in prison. All IWW members in prison are automatically part of IWOC. It stands

for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee


What do you expect of me? I do not really have any expectations. I do have

hopes though. I very much hope to receive suggestions and ideas of how we can

use our organization to offer support to Prisoner Workers and also stop the

flood of bodies into the prison system.


How can we Prisoner Workers start expanding this community of support on

the inside? Please let me know if you would like me to add your contact info to a

contact sheet to be shared with other Prisoner Workers who are also in our

community of support. Also please feel free to recommend friends, especially women and trans friends, to write to us at GKCGDC, PO Box 414304, Kansas City,

MO, 64141 or you can send us their name, number, and address and we can

write to them.


If I join the IWW, when does my membership start? Your membership starts

when you put your application in the mail. If you do not receive a membership

packet within 4‐6 weeks of submitting your application, please let us know. If it

takes that long, we probably never received your application or membership



How do I get more membership applications? You can write to any of the

contacts in the IWW Contacts section and request applications or you can let

people know to write to us and ask to be a member. People can also send lists of

names and ID numbers in cases where a bunch of people want to join at one





By Sean Swain X380847

‐‐While the majority of prisoners committed crimes to end up in prison, we have

to keep in mind that the extremely wealthy who control the “commanding

heights” of the economy have created desperate situations that lead to crime.

Poverty, crumbling schools, widespread unemployment and under‐employment‐

‐ these are all conditions created by a maldistribution of wealth and power.

Prisons, then, are a way to punish those without opportunities; prisons punish

those effected w a free pass to the wealthy who are the cause of crime.

‐‐ While the vast majority of prisoners commit crimes to end up in prison, we

also have to keep in mind that government has criminalized just about every

human activity. The U.S. has more criminal statutes than any other nation in

history. As a consequence, selective enforcement of these laws in poor areas

where police are most heavily concentrated serves political, economic, and

demographic interests totally unrelated to crime or crime control. The more

“radical” element who may pose a challenge to the wealthy and powerful is

silenced and neutralized while more wealth and power is concentrated in fewer

and fewer hands.

‐‐ The prison industrial complex has created a kind of “third world colony” right

here in the United States. Prison systems outsource prisoners for slave labor to

major corporations for pennies per day. Prisoners perform data entry and work

auto industry jobs that used to belong to free world workers. The workers left

unemployed become the desperate criminals of tomorrow, getting locked up

and getting their old union job back… in the prison factory… for pennies per


‐‐Those in prison today are your neighbors tomorrow. Freed prisoners won’t live in gated communities with Fortune 500 executives; freed prisoners move in next

door to you. As a practical question, do you want a fellow worker with

community activism and labor organizing experience moving next door and

using those skills to create a functional life, or would you prefer a bitter,

desperate, unemployable criminal with no prospects and little or nothing to


‐‐ The modern prison system is the government’s “canary in the coal mine.” All

of the strategies and tactics for surveillance, crowd control, and population

pacification have been perfected on prisoner populations before being

employed in the free world. Mass surveillance including centralized monitoring

via security cameras and the collection of communications meta‐data originate

in prison; response tactics such as the use of tasers and pepper spray, “kettling”

unruly mobs, and formations of phalanxes behind riot shields all arise from

corrections applications.Even the use of torture was employed on prisoners

before going mainstream. How authorities have pushed prisoners is soon how

authorities push the workers. So, the conditions that prisoners are allowed to

suffer today become the conditions imposed on workers tomorrow.


Personal feelings about crime aside, the interests of workers and the working

class are bound together with the interests of prisoners. In fact, those who truly

would like to see crime diminish should work for prisoner‐worker solidarity,

empowering prisoners and expanding the labor market, widening opportunities

and prosperity that pose as a real alternative to crime.



New Research on Puerto Rico’s Labor Movement History!

As a workers’ organization in a state that has a long and vibrant tradition of Puerto Rican struggles for dignity and justice, we wanted to share this exciting new contribution to understanding the island and its peoples’ history, thanks to by Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo. To read his article, click: Imagining Resistance : Organizing the Puerto Rican Southern Agricultural Strike of 1905.

Hartford Bus Drivers’ Strike Gives Austerity Another Black Eye


Since taking office, Mayor Bronin has made it his mission to balance the city’s budget on the backs of workers and the people we serve, with no serious efforts to raise revenue. Layoffs have occurred early and often, while behind closed doors with the city’s union leaders he reportedly threatened to declare the city bankrupt if they didn’t get behind the state bill 464 making him dictator over the city’s finances with the power to make deep cuts. But the newbie politician underestimated the people who have made their lives and careers in Hartford, long before he relocated here from Greenwich, and accidentally ended up unifying some unlikely allies. IAFF 760 Hartford Firefighters Association, Moral Monday CT/Black Lives Matter, and a few people with the Connecticut State Employees Association (CSEA-SEIU) mobilized for a confrontational protest that ultimately defeated the power grab.

Since that snowy demonstration in April, members of CSEA at the Dattco school bus company have protested against their unequal pay with Dattco drivers in other towns, and demanded that the company take seriously the negotiations that they’ve drawn-out since the contract expired in August. According to the Hartford Courant (Vanessa de la Torre, May 16th 2016):

DATTCO, whose contract with the city school system is set to expire June 30, said it did not want to approve an agreement with the drivers “that would increase the cost of school bus transportation in the city of Hartford for the next five years.”

Once again, Hartford workers are the ones who are expected to take a hit in hard financial times. Rather than pressuring Dattco to bargain in good faith, Mayor Bronin reportedly considered replacing Dattco with a non-union company if a longer strike occurred. Ultimately, it took a one-day strike on May 17th for Dattco to get the message and bring them back to the negotiating table where they did agree to the workers’ demands. The tentative agreement is to be voted on by the union members Friday May 27th.


Rev. Cornell Lewis (middle) of Moral Monday CT

The drivers and community allies–including members of the IWW and Moral Monday CT–held strong throughout the day in front of the bus yard on North Main Street, despite the efforts of City Council President T.J. Clark, who showed up to the picket to parrot the company tactic of trying to use students to guilt them out of exercising their power to strike. Picketers immediately understood his role as a politician collaborating with their bosses to put them in their place. Meanwhile, the “union brothers” of the Hartford Police (who are set to cost the city $45 million next year) performed their duty as scab-herders for the company so that the few drivers lacking any sense of right or solidarity could get past the picketers as they shouted “Scab!”

The 100 union members at Hartford’s Dattco bus yard voted overwhelmingly the week before to strike on Tuesday May 17th, but Dattco and the Board of Education neglected to inform parents and guardians until that Monday. Despite the difficulty this caused for parents and guardians, there was some vocal support from them.

North End activist Evelyn Richardson of the Daughters of Eve said,

don’t say that people advocating for their rights mean they don’t care! Foolish comments by lazy minded people think that a strike for a few days supersede the care they have shown most times at the expense of their own families and appointments. They make it seem like none of that amounts to nothing because you or we can’t get our child to school on our own for one darn day! … Go Dattco Strikers! Hartford families matter and most (if not all) of you live, work, and play in Hartford.

And Reinaldo-Yaira Rojas-Lebron declared himself

In solidarity with school bus drivers in Hartford, CT!!! Sad that people are attacking them. Our afternoon bus driver yesterday had tears in her eyes of so many insults she received from parents. Our kids were the last to be dropped, and we were the only to show support.

Yes we were inconvenienced. Yes it messed up our schedule today. But I blame Dattco and their dirty tactics for this. Not the drivers or the union. They are standing for their rights. What a shame that in Hartford people side with the greedy company instead of standing in solidarity with the workers.

These folks just want fair pay and fair pay conditions. Dattco just wants to enrich their pockets. And then threaten to charge Hartford more for this, in other words we taxpayers. No Dattco, you earn a bit less. Why side with them? Fair pay for bus drivers!!!!

Less than half a year into Bronin’s term, we’ve already seen two instances where disruptive direct action defeated austerity measures. What’s clear to anybody who’s paying attention is that Hartford is a sleeping giant that is stirring, and as it awakens the voices of respectability and compromise will continue to try and put us back to bed. But when neighbors and fellow workers stand together, we’re more numerous and powerful than all the bosses, politicians and cops combined.