Unionising on the Inside
Updated: Jan 8
Prisons are a weapon of class warfare. Though their stated aim is to protect the public, the real aim of prisons is to maintain class privileges and inequalities. The Victorians established prisons during the 1800s to deal with the ‘social problems’ (urban poverty) created by capitalism and industrialisation. Built within inner-city working-class neighbourhoods, Victorian prisons were designed to look like dungeons. Medieval aesthetics sought to strike fear into the hearts of workers and compel them to accept pitiful working and living conditions. Today, prisons are designed to look like friendly clinical settings, yet, their primary function remains the same: to control, regulate and discipline the working class.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) recognises the importance of working-class solidarity with prisoners and the value of supporting prisoners to organise themselves in order to challenge harmful prison conditions, exploitative prison work conditions, and the role imprisonment plays in reproducing social inequality.
Members of the IWW in the USA created the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) to liaise with prisoners interested in unionising and building bridges with fellow workers on the outside. IWOC was founded on the basis that the harms prisons do to working class communities can only be combated with the conscious participation of prisoners and solidarity with fellow workers on the outside.
Members of IWW Ireland have established IWOC Ireland in an attempt to actively reach out to prisoners as well as in response to prisoners who have reached out for assistance in unionising. IWOC Ireland is currently actively liaising with prisoners and developing strategies of how best to support them organise a union branch.
IWOC Ireland is solicitating IWW membership applications from prisoners across the island of Ireland who agree with the IWW Constitution and are committed to union organising and mutual aid and solidarity. IWW membership is free for prisoners. Prisoner members are full-fledged members of the IWW and have the same rights and responsibilities of non-prisoner members. The aim is to establish, maintain and develop IWOC branches within prisons across the island of Ireland and developing capacity to mobilise around collective concerns and take direct actions. IWOC Ireland members on the outside will offer solidarity, by providing whatever support is needed by imprisoned members. This will extend from individual letter writing to supporting campaigns for justice.