AOP's, Association of Prisoners
By Mark Barnsley
I was interested to read about these latest plans to form a prisoners union, (AOP's, Association of Prisoners) and would be interested to know more. I fully support the idea of prisoners organising to fight back against the current wave of repression, but it would clearly be naive to think that the system would welcome or applaud the formation of any genuinely radical organisation. like all despots they both loathe and fear the solidarity and mutual aid which will ultimately lead to their destruction.
While much can be achieved, even in reformist terms, a proper perspective on prison work needs to be considered carefully. In my view, simple calls for a ‘fairer’ prison wage are not only reformist and short-sighted, but they play into the hands of the builders of the Prison Industrial Complex. Indeed the cosmetic raising of prison wages is an intrinsic part of its cementation. We are seeing this in private prison like Lowdham Grange, where prisoners receive a higher than average wage, but sign away their rights, to day-time visits, full-time medical care and education. The private prison companies, and ultimately the state, will gladly pay out higher prison wages (generally based on piece-work,) in return for a compliant and hard-working slave labour force - ‘Better a happy slave than a resentful one.’ Charges for room and board, payments to ’victim support organisations’, and the strict enforcement of a ‘company store’ (canteen) monopoly will allow much of the money paid out in wages to be recouped in any case.
Having largely achieved a compliant mainstream prison population over the past few years. during phase 1 of the building of the ‘British Industrial Prison Complex,’ the state ultimately desires a situation where prisoners are either behind their doors (watching TV if they’re good boys and girls), or at work ‘producing’.
Work - consume - sleep. The ideal capitalist economy in microcosm.
By collaborating with the prison economy we are ultimately assisting in the expansion of the prison building programme (largely financed by the private sector,) and the imprisonment of greater numbers of working class people. We are also helping to undermine the wages and conditions of workers outside.
Everything that is happening in British prisons today, right down to things like higher phone tariffs as an incentive to go to work (the creation of needs and desires,) happened in America yesterday. Often we are dealing with the same corporations. for those who have bothered to look, there can be no surprises in current and future British penal policy (unless like the POA you’re too stupid to see it.)
These gulags only function in the way they do because of the foolish compliance of prisoners suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ (or the adoption of a selfish ‘kapo’ mentality.) We cook the food clean the landings, make the uniforms, bedding ,soap toothbrushes, in some cases we even help build the places. Imagine how different it would be if we refused to conspire in our own imprisonment. That’s my vision, not �30 a week and a TV set. compulsory labour is slavery, no matter what the pay and conditions, and i’m not going to be anybody’s slave.
We should avoid replicating the mistakes the wider labour movement has made in the last 100 years, allowing it to be completely co-opted and practically neutralised, by the adoption of authoritarian structures and an entirely reformist agenda.
We don’t need Martin Narey’s consent to organise.
First published in 'Inside Out' No 14
(n.b. The present Director General of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is Phil Wheatley).