|~ "Made on the inside to be worn on the outside" ~|
"Prison Blues" work jeans made by inmates in
Oregon. Photo from American Ground
Sometimes it takes just a slight shift of perspective to reveal the insidiousness of certain practices of the capitalist regime. Over the last 30 years or so, outsourcing of all types of jobs, from service to production, has enabled increased profits at the cost of worker exploitation in places outside of the major regions of consumption. As the continued globalization of the corporate production machine has taken root, so too have fair trade and other worker's-rights movements, that have aimed to fight the exploitation of workers around the globe. These actions are beginning to force corporations to seek new outlets of cheap labor, which has led to a turn back to the center: the ever-growing U.S. prison population.
In the past, prison labor was touted as a means of reforming inmates, and providing them with a skill that would aid in their re-integration with society. Today, prison labor is something much different. It's now a source of incredibly inexpensive, highly controllable labor. Prison labor shows up to work on time, receives no benefits, overtime, or other perks, cannot organize, and is rarely paid even minimum wage. If a prisoner refuses these terms, they are reportedly locked up in solitary. A report from Global Research, a Canada-based globalization research center, has begun to frame this "insourcing" of jobs in way that reveals just how underhanded this development in labor practice is.
First a little prison population background is in order. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2011, there were about 1.6 million total prisoners in state and federal prisons in the US. Of those, 1.4 million are male, and almost 1 million are black or hispanic (about 63% of the total prison population). Prisoners in private prisons represent a relatively small fraction of the total number of total prisoners (about 130,000 in 2010), but the privatization of prisons is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. All of these prisoners combine to represent around 25% of the world's prisoners, and more than any other country, including China and India, which have 4-5 times the total population of the US.