Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kali Speaks...

A few weeks ago, I came across a story in the LA Times that was chilling in what it portends about the future, especially in regards to black and brown folk. The thing is, it wasn't even really news. It's something that anyone with half a brain knew was coming and (in some form or another) it's actually been in effect for more than a minute throughout the country... and that's the use of prison inmates as basically slave labor for big business. The March 1st LA Times ran the headline and sub-head, Colorado to use inmates to fill migrant shortage: Tough laws passed last year against illegal immigration have created a need for farmworkers. For those who missed it, the story itself is can be found here.

An interesting side/not-so-side note is this news item from June of last year, noting how Colorado's prison population is growing at five times the rate of the national average. Mmmm, fresh livestock. Click here.

But really, the Times headline and subhead just capsulize the relationships between the prison industrial complex, big business (even though the inmates will be working on farms, you know this is just the beginning of how their cheap labor will be used), the pimp-da-po' function of the American politcal structure, and the low-regard for and interchangeability of black, brown and poor white bodies. Chattel, in other words. Given the increased far-right presence in the nation's courts (just google the right-wing purge spearheaded by current Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, which is only the latest and most high-profile exhibit) and given the sham of equal protection under the law for colored and poor white folks , you won't even have the shaky comfort of shrugging this news off with indifference because it's just "crackheads and gang members" who are locked up. Pull-quote: "Prisoners who are a low security risk may choose to work in the fields, earning 60 cents a day. They also are eligible for small bonuses."

I used all of that as an intro to this essay by Kali Tal, an artist, anti-racism activist and former professor in the U.S. who finally moved to Berlin in disgust at the direction this country was headed. It's a bleak prognosis and those who are more fight than flight minded will definitely take issue with a lot of its conclusions, but I think it's well worth reading. An excerpt:

The U.S. prison population will continue to swell, as will U.S. "guest worker" programs (indentured servitude), so that the corporations that remain in the U.S. will have access to an enormous slave and indentured labor force. This will not, however, work out well for corporations in the long run, since even a huge drop in the wages in the U.S. won't bring the work force down to the level of labor in the third world countries they prefer to exploit, and U.S. made products will never be competitive with those produced in Asia, even if it were possible to retool the U.S. infrastructure and rebuild the country as a kind of third-world manufacturing base. The U.S. has also squandered the bulk of its easily accessible raw materials (oil, timber, copper, etc.), so that it is more cost effective to turn to richer stocks in Africa and Asia.

Destruction of the U.S. public school system and the promotion of largely unsupervised charter schools has already produced two generations of poorly educated additions to the citizenry and the work force. The lack of foundation makes it impossible for students to rise to high levels of achievement even in good colleges and universities. The U.S. underproduces highly trained personnel in almost every field in the sciences, and it has largely given up attempting to educate persons in the humanities and the social sciences. Increasingly, those corporations remaining in the U.S. will be forced to recruit from Europe and Asia to fill technical and professional positions.

For the rest of the essay, click here

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