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Today the focus will undoubtedly fall on Washington as Obama dedicates the new statue to Martin Luther King, the famous black civil rights leader.  Aretha Franklin will sing magnificently and Obama can be guaranteed to give a finely honed and magisterial homily.  Comparisons will doubtless be drawn in the press tomorrow with the days of civil rights in 1968 when this president was six years old, and today when he will lead the celebrations as the first black President of the United States.

Undoubtedly comparisons will also be drawn between the days of slavery and today, with today being shown as a time when all Americans can move forward together to the light etc etc.

But have matters moved on substantially for black people in the United States?  Is black slavery a thing of the past?

Source: Wikipedia

Black people are still far and away over represented in the populations of American prisons.  And American prisons are the largest in the world.  In 2009 the US Bureau of Statistics showed 2,292,133 were in federal prisons.  That is fully 1% of the population and a further 4,933,667 were on probation or parole.  7,225,800 were under some form of correctional supervision taking the total to 3.1% of the population.  And that amounts to 5% of the entire black population.  It is a huge exponential growth.  In 1980 under Ronnie Reagan the population was only 400,000.

More Afro-American men in prison or probation or parole today than were ever  enslaved before 1850.

Of course you might say getting these prisoners to learn a trade would be a good thing.  It would teach them self discipline and personal pride. They are in prison and any comparison to slave camps is pinko liberal hyperbole!  Until you ask what they are actually doing when they are in prison.

They work in prisons for pittances for companies that make great profit from their labour.  Prisoners are earning 23 cents per hour making high tech electronic components for a range of Government contractors.  Wages of this level are amongst the lowest in the world.  They make parts for Patriot advanced Capability missiles, launchers and TOW (tube launched optical tracked wire-guided ) anti tank parts.

Over the whole, prisoners are used by McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Bell Texan amongst others for producing a vast range of military equipment.  Night vision goggles; body armour; camouflage uniform; radio and communication devises; lighting systems; components for battleship anti-aircraft guns; land mine sweepers; electrical optical equipment for BAE systems; Bradley fighting vehicles laser firing range finders and much much more is made by Santa’s little helpers.  They even get to recycle toxic electronic equipment.

These labour contracts are out to UNICOR formerly known as Federal Prison Industries a for profits corporation who are the United States 39th largest contractor.

Slave wages such as these increase profits for these giant military corporations and are an attack on the rights of workers on the outside.  After all, these firms are not worrying about Union Protection or overtime payments, vacations, pensions or benefits.  It skews their competitiveness against firms not also involved in the scheme or foreign competition who don’t stoop to using slave labour.

It’s not even as if this work experience improves the chances of the inmates getting a job using this experience when they do get out.  In a classic bind as convicted felons they are barred from employment in the very industries they have slaved for during their incarceration.

America today runs slave plantations far greater then existed before the Civil War and as the Chief Plantation Owner of these plantations Obama must surely be aware of the irony of delivering the eulogy to Martin Luther King today.

Copyright David Macadam 2011

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