Sunday, January 8, 2012

False Consciousness

Bless that theoretician for mass murder, Marx, for without his phrase "false consciousness" I'd be at a loss to begin to comprehend the actions of some of my fellow prisoners.

Many prisons now have contracts with outside companies to whom the Governor sells our labour.  This work is tedious and unskilled but often pays at a rate higher than equally crap prison work.

The economics of this are simple.  The outside company gets labour that works under threat of punishment and at a fraction of the minimum wage.  The goods are then sold on the market at the normal rate, giving the company a far greater profit margin in relation to its competitors.

Whether you support this abuse of prisoners or not, it is undeniable that this is simply using slave labour for the commercial profit.

The mystery for me is how many prisoners fail to see what is staring them in the face.  Rather than appreciating this for being an abuse, many see it as an opportunity to earn a higher than usual prison wage; maybe £25 for a 35 hour working week.

So they compete for these jobs.  They willingly line up to be worked like dogs just so some private company can screw some extra profit.

I just don't get it.


  1. Bem, i am not sure i understand, does the company pay the prison going rate/minimum wage, and then the prison pay the inmate £25 from that, or do the company get a weeks labour for £25, and the prison don't take a cut?

    I refused to do this when i was in Cookham wood, Marks and spencer paid 33p an hour to fold up the cardboard things that advertized their insurance. I got plenty of private cash sent in, and anything i wanted was just a phone call away, but there are plenty of inmates who don't, and need the cash for canteen money, and haven't the luxury of being self ritious. Having said that, i know someone who works for Summit Media at privat prison Wolds, and that is pure exploitation.

  2. If they want to do it, then by definition it isn't slave labour.

    "They willingly line up to be worked like dogs just so some private company can screw some extra profit." - Them along with millions of other workers on the outside except they are also forced to pay for your room and board.

  3. There are two things that strike me about this arrangement.

    The first is that I wonder at the ability to send money to people in prison, as the above poster received. Surely this makes prison less of a punishment for those with rich families than for those with poor? That just doesn't seem right or fair.

    Secondly, what is happening here is illegal under Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The prohibition on state aid. The state has a resource (prisoners) that due to exemptions on in the Human Rights Act, they can use as labor. They are then providing this to private companies, a transfer of state resources, which gives those companies a competitive advantage. Which therefore breaches the State Aid rules as all other companies have to pay full price.

  4. Seriously?

    You snipe at Marx (who was in NO way responsible for the uses to which his work was put, have you even read Capital?)

    Then you describe some of the worst excesses of free market capitalism, hrm...

  5. That £25 is pocket money, surely? Prisoners do not have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or how to pay the rent as that is all covered, so anything they earn can be either saved or spent on fags, cookies or tins of tuna! Not everyone out here can afford to save £25 per week...
    Count yourself lucky.

  6. Its because wage labour is not the same as slave labour. Inherent within wage labour is the capacity for false consciousness, because, among other things, like you say Ben, people are forced to compete with eachother to sell their labour power. It is an interesting con trick from the exploiters, and one where they end up laughing all the way to the bank. Eploitation is excessive in prisons.

    However there are some who do and can see through the con trick, good people like yourself, Ben, who then can encourage others to see it like it is and take a stand. Just remember though that it is a whole economic system of economic expoitation and human degredation that you stand in opposition to, so making a stand against it all is no mean feat by a long shot.

    Marx and his writings are on your side Ben, and can be used as an aid for people. Marx was no mere theortician, that is a popular misconception, he was always practical, most of his writing was polemical with others involved in struggle and on the issues of the day. Capital he wrote after the defeat of the Paris Commune, as a guide for people to get to grips with the rotton and exploitative economics of the capitalist system. It is not an easy read in my opinion, but it has much to offer.

  7. @anon 12:17

    £6 an hour at 35 a week is £210 a week.

    Prison spends £2 a day feeding people, so that subtracts down to £198 a week. I've rented rooms the size of prison cells, generally about £80 a week (heating, electric, and internet and council tax included), so if we take off £5 a week for internet thats £75 a week. So down to £123 a week. Now they don't have to pay for transport, but a 7 days bus card is generally around £20-£30 a week, so at most we are down to £93 a week. Then I suppose NI is about £15 a week, so we can get down to £78. This is below the income tax threshold so that can be forgotten.

    So we are still in a position were for what they are receiving they should get an additional £80.

    And the £25 is not just pocket money, I understand that anything not deemed utterly essential (like a duvet, or clothes, or soap) has to be bought out of it. And this is at prison prices, so £25 is somewhat reduced.

  8. Ben is making an important (and not merely philosophical) point here. It does not matter if the prisoner is receiving some form of pecuniary compensation for their labour, they are not effectively free to choose whether they do the work or not as. Under Prison Rules it is an Offence Against Discipline if a prisoner “…intentionally fails to work properly or, being required to work, refuses to do so.” [51.21] This offence carries the threat of a number of Governor’s Punishments., which can include:
    ● loss of privileges under Rule 8 up to 42 days (21 days for a young offender)
    ● up to 21 days cellular confinement
    ● stoppage of earnings for up to 84 days or deduction from earnings of an amount not exceeding 42 days earnings
    ● young offenders can even be sentenced to periods of extra work as a punishment.
    So, not only is it compulsory to work to a standard set by prison staff, it is also possible for a prisoner to find themselves working for a prolonged period for nothing at all if they fall below that standard or get out of line in any other way.

    As a consequence of a demotion of one's Incentives & Earned Privileges level, one's access to private cash is also limited:

    Unconvicted Convicted
    Basic £22.00 £4.00
    Standard £47.50 £15.50
    Enhanced £51.00 £25.50

    So when Ben compares it to slavery he is using it as using it as a shorthand for 'forced labour' (see Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act 1998) and the situation is merely a more 'civilised' version of the indentured labour/debt bondage/penal transportation practised in C17th & C18th.

  9. Thats great Joe, and understood. Powerful case too.

    Ben was saying that he didn't understand why people in prison line up to do highly exploitative work, and the so-called 'free' wage labour explains in part why people do it.

    Those companies exploiting prison labour are being very gross and looks like from what you cite here Joe are virtually getting away with forced labour. That is an afront to our human rights and those forced to live under such conditions should try and do something to stop the practice, and not just for themselves, but also for others.

    Equally people on the outside need to have this information so as to campaign against the exploitation of prisoners.

    Another really demonic practice in prisons is the use of the CSC units, terrifying and terrible, they ought to be stopped and its in everyones interest to try to stop them.

  10. Given that Ben's incarceration has cost non-murderering taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds more than he has put back in, I'd say that tallguy's maths are worthless.

    Ben, this is the price you pay for being a murderer.

  11. The ethics of this is is one thing (and a big and very valid debate), but to answer the question about why people are lining up to do this, it seems quite simple: they need the cash. This may well be exploitative, but in the outside world Ben, ideologies don't pay the bills either. If you think the prison system has some neurons missing, wait until you face life in the outside world with the numerous government systems, policies etc, not to mention those of potential employers.

  12. @Anon 5:52

    It was answering the comment about how people don't get that much money on the outside. Turning round and saying "yes you get less but thats because..." is essentially saying "yes you are right." So thank you for your support in that regard.

    As to "this is the price you pay for being a murderer," Ben is not actually being punished. He is being detained for public safety. There are two parts to a life sentence, the tariff (in Ben's case 10 years) which is the amount the judge considers as a suitable punishment. Then there is the fact that after that you have to be considered safe to be released. So the rest of the sentence has the twin aim of rehabilitation and public safety. Not Punishment.

    Hey don't look at me like that, thats the law and the way the system is set up. Ben is detained at the will of probation officers, who are charged with public safety not punishment. Not a Judge, who is the person actually charged with punishment. Given the philosophy of separation of powers, it is bad news for all of us if probation officers cross the line and become judges, as they are part of the executive.

  13. @Tall guy, I am anon #!, I was an animal rights prisoner, and most of my cash was sent in by well-wishers. Inc £40 a month from the animal liberation front supporters group. And then other people would send me (unsolisited) money. The thing is, i had quite a bit in my private account, but was only allowed to spend A£15 a week (going up to £24 enhanced prisoner) regardless of how much cash i had in my account. So wasn't wallowing in luxuary, i just came out with more than most.

  14. @ Anon above

    I wasn't suggesting you were in luxury. My issue is that you had a lighter punishment as you received outside money. It may not have been much lighter, but the principle is still there. If prisoners need outside money to be able to live or make phone calls, or to study, that is a flaw with the system as it means there is grater punishment, as those who have no-one outside with money suffer more.

    In prison there should be true equality, 5 years for a Lord should be the same as 5 years for a beggar. Both are sentenced by the same court under the same law, they should be punished in the same way.

  15. Well lets be technically correct here. Lifers are detained at the will of the Parole Board, most of whom are indeed Judges. It's true that the decisions of the Board are heavily influenced by Probation Officers, but other professionals provide reports also and being independent the Board are not bound by views from PO's alone. It was however a retrograde step to remove the so-called 'independent' report from a third party on cost grounds. Finally, all professional reports are open to legal and professional challenge at Oral Hearings by solicitors or barristers acting for the prisoner. It is in effect a quasi-legal process throughout and similar to that for patients detained in Special Hospitals.

  16. When I was inside, I took the DHL canteen job because it was the best paid job in the prison, and I saved £20 of that £25 each week for 13 weeks before release.

    Slave labour, maybe. £260 till my first giro? A useful padding...

  17. Sounds like common sense, Fenrir. We can all stand on principle, and some would not choose to work for certain companies out here if they had moral objections to the way those companies operated. Not everyone can be so highly principled. Ben will be skint when he gets out as he refuses to take advantage of these high paid jobs, so he will live on state handouts. Where is the moral high ground in that?!

  18. Being forced to work or face punishment seems to be slave labour and, in that regard, I agree with Ben, but picking the best paid option out of those you are forced to do is just good sense.

  19. Hang on a minute, didn't you work for Summit Media?!? You wrote about it: where were your high minded principles then?


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