AFL-CIO takes a stand for Prison Reform

September 23,2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 5.51.33 PMAs reported in The Nation on Sept.10th, “the largest federation of US unions, the AFL-CIO, passed resolutions Monday slamming “the big business behind mass incarceration,” promising intensified collaboration with alternative labor groups and granting its leadership new oversight tools designed to spur more effective organizing by its fifty-seven unions.”

AFL-CIO President Larry Trumka (see photo on left) came down hard on the nations prison policies, “Mass incarceration is a betrayal of the American promise,” Trumka told the crowd before taking comments from the floor. “The practice hurts our people and our communities, it keeps wages low, it suppresses democracy, and we can’t afford to imprison so many people. Nor can our families, our communities or our country afford the loss of productivity of these people.”

The resolution, among other things, backed closer cooperation between the AFL-CIO and “worker centers” that organize and mobilize workers who lack collective bargaining rights (such as prisoner unions), and a greater role for Working America, the AFL-CIO’s own affiliate for non-union workers. While the AFL-CIO has resources and leverage, it does not have control of the fifty-seven unions that  comprise it. The real test for Trumka and his prison reform initiative will be whether the AFL-CIO can convince law enforcement and prison guard unions to follow his lead in supporting prison reform, even when those initiatives threatens jobs within those unions.

New York State , which has closed thirteen prisons over the past five years has been actively seeking to build  new industries and revive old ones in rural areas of the state, where the prisons are mostly located. Governor Cuomo has sought to foster coalitions of local farmers in upstate New York with prison guard unions, in an attempt to increase the number of jobs available to newly unemployed prison guards (see article on Cuomo’s “Milk Not Jails” initiative).

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