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:
- To further the revolutionary goals of incarcerated people and the IWW through mutual organizing of a worldwide union for emancipation from the prison system.
- 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.
- To strategically and tactically support prisoners locally and worldwide, incorporating an analysis of white supremacy, patriarchy, prison culture, and capitalism.
- 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.
- 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
WHY SHOULD FREE WORLD WORKERS CARE ABOUT PRISONERS?
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.