While fashion designers and brands continue to grab headlines and praise for their “heroism,” garment workers are fundraising for basic needs. This article was originally published at Truthout By Minh-Ha T. Pham Fashion labels from Christian Siriano, H&M and Zara to luxury
The entertainment industry thrives on unpaid and underpaid workers using the law of supply and demand to justify unfair compensation. By Adriana Gomez-Weston David Rensin’s “The Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up” is considered the Bible of entry-level Hollywood, its
Without mass actions like the current nationwide prison strike, which bring direct awareness to the issue, these stories go largely underreported.Note: Due to the safety of the incarcerated individuals, some names were changed to allow anonymity. We speak carefully on the phone, fully aware that anything said can become grounds to get him sent to ‘segregation’, so we talk in non-absolutes and coded language. The phone line is fuzzy, distant, and unstable today—sometimes it sounds crystal clear, other times I think he may be underwater—but still, we speak with covert passion. “I’m sure you heard the news of what’s happening all around, yeah?” he asks me, not saying the words but still conveying the conversation to me. “It’s really fuckin’ courageous for people, what [they’re] doing,” Charlie, an immigrant who has been incarcerated in Georgia for almost six years and is now at Stewart Detention Center, the fifth facility he’s been transferred to, tells me. “I keep my faith, but niggas go crazy in here,” Charlie says with a voice that’s increasingly shaky. We quickly change the subject. The topic of resistance can be fleeting and constricted for incarcerated people like Charlie, but it’s often present nonetheless. The “news” that Charlie was referring to is the nationwide prison strike, which was announced in April and began last week. https://twitter.com/JailLawSpeak/status/988771668670799872 Earlier this year, incarcerated people across the U.S. announced plans to hold a nationwide prison strike from August 21st to September 9th. The dates are not random: August 21st invokes the day that comrade George Jackson was murdered by prison guards in San Quentin State Prison, and September 9th marks the day incarcerated people began the Attica Prison Uprising, one of the most notorious prison uprisings in history. Lead by an abolitionist collective including groups like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and others which culminate incarcerated and non-incarcerated organizers, this strike, now several days underway with many reports of involvement across the country and over 300 organizations endorsing it, could be the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
The DemandsThe strike is in response to an uprising at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina where seven incarcerated people died on April 15, 2018. Based on multiple reports, the violence and subsequent deaths at Lee Correctional Institution was provoked by prison guards and then sustained by prison officials who turned their backs on the incarcerated people as the violence increased, not attempting to break up the fighting or give medical aid. “The demands were issued in direct response to the violence at Lee Correctional Institution,” said journalist and prisoner advocate Jared Ware. “Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is a human rights organization inside prisons, and the language and the choice of their demands in many ways reflects the way they work, they deal in policies, they examine laws, they write writs, they help with appeals, they file grievances against abuses in prisons.” The strikers’ demands are both straightforward and complex, with the crux of them calling attention to the need for “humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.” While organizers have noted that their demands don’t illustrate or tackle the totality of problems they face as incarcerated people, they do cover much important ground that we on the outside should pay close attention to and appreciate.
The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so.In a recent interview with Ware for ShadowProof, a representative from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak said the creation of the demands came from “talking to a number of prisoners in a number of different locations”, narrowing them down from over 30 demands to the ten we see today. They wanted the demands to be specific in their aims, but speak to as much of the incarceration as possible, from women’s prisons to immigrant detention centers. Of the demands, the first two may be the most general: immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women, and an immediate end to prison slavery by paying incarcerated workers ‘the prevailing wage’ in their state for their labor. The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so. Utterly inhumane conditions are a permanent fixture in most jails and prisons across the country, and have been the catalyst for many prison uprisings. In the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), incarcerated people have reported the spreading staph infections and other diseases due to the unsanitary, dirty environment. In other cases, incarcerated people have died from heat exhaustion due to lack of air conditioning, have been denied access to clean drinking water, or have had minor health problems become life-ending occasions due to medical neglect. Following Hurricane Harvey last year, reports piled in that incarcerated people in Texas were left with no electricity, no running water or working toilets, and no ventilation for several days.
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The overwhelming amount of emotional labor that is involved in working within retail or service industry positions is magnified for marginalized workers.By Crissonna Tennison Anyone who has ever worked in retail has at least one Bad Customer story. Mine occurred about one hour before the end of what had been a pretty good day. I was midway through straightening up the store to prepare for closing when a pair of customers came in blasting Taylor Swift on their phone. I don’t like confrontation, but we already had music playing in the store, and the sound of Swift rapping about her reputation through a low-quality phone speaker could have been disruptive to other customers (it certainly was for me). After a minute of gathering the energy, I walked up to them and politely asked them to turn off the song. They turned down the volume as I walked away, but left the music playing. I continued to straighten merchandise, hoping they would leave quickly so I wouldn’t have to talk to them again. Unfortunately, my luck for that day had run out. The customers grabbed literal heaps of clothes to try on, dumping them on the front counter near the register while one of them took three items into the dressing room at a time, the only store policy I successfully got them to follow. Minutes before closing time, they sorted the clothes into “yes,” “no” and “maybe” piles while I rang up another customer. In their disarray, they knocked a stack of business cards onto the floor. Instead of picking up the cards, one of them followed a half-hearted apology with, “It’s okay, I did you a favor.” The villains felt empowered to act this way because Western consumer culture privileges customer perceptions over those of employees. “The customer is always right” is a term that grumpy bosses and grumpier soccer moms have been slinging around since the early twentieth century, when department store tycoons Marshall Field and Henry Selfridge developed the term to promise their customers a quality retail experience—or, more specifically, an experience that meets each individual’s wildly different definition of “quality.” But it is unlikely that Field, Selfridge, or any other powerful retail executives from the twentieth century until today have ever had to deal with the reality of what such a mandate means for daily business interactions. That honor belongs to retail workers, the folks whose bodies constitute the frontlines of modern consumer culture.