Labor in the Correctional State

Source: Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 8 no. 3, Fall 2011
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A “Labor History” of Mass Incarceration by Alex Lichtenstein
This essay suggests what a labor-based history of the U.S. carceral state in the twentieth century might look like. In particular, it argues that the bifurcation of prison studies into examinations of life “behind the walls” and the place of incarceration in the society at large obscures the central role punishment plays in mediating labor relations and the labor market in modern America.

Rethinking Working-Class Struggle through the Lens of the Carceral State: Toward a Labor History of Inmates and Guards
by Heather Ann Thompson
This essay suggests that it is time for the American working class to pay attention to penal facilities as sites of productive labor and wage competition and to recognize that its destiny is tied in subtle but important ways to the ability of inmates as well as prison guards to demand fair pay as well as safe working conditions.

“The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Cuts Cordwood”: Exploring Black Women’s Lives and Labor in Georgia’s Convict Camps, 1865-1917 by Talitha LeFlouria
This article exposes the interior world of black female prisoners who labored in Georgia’s convict camps after the Civil War. During the post-Emancipation period convict labor became an indispensable asset in the development of Georgia’s postwar industries, and helped foster the growth of its industrial economy.

“The Common Enemy Is the Boss and the Inmate”: Police and Prison Guard Unions in New York in the 1970s-1980s
by Rebecca Hill
In addition to national campaigns of the New Right, police and prison-guard activism successfully redefined the working class through the war on crime.

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