Monday July 06th 2015, Prisoners Union Benefit. Volkseten Vegazulu, 7pm.
This benefit is dedicated to the young Prisoners Union in german prisons. The following interview gives a brief insight into the union.
Union behind bars
experiences from one year of union work – four questions to Oliver Rast (GG/BO)
Who or what is the Prisoners Union? What does it represent and what are its goals?
Last year in May we established ourselves as self-organized union initiative of prisoners at JVA Tegel. Day by day prisoners gather at the workbench and are confronted with highly precarious work situations: low-wage, piecework rush and no pension scheme, which amounts to an express ticket into poverty in old-age after being released. At that point we concentrate on two key demands: social insurance contribution for imprisoned employees and the inclusion of working prisoners in the general statutory minimal wage. By means of those steps we are aiming for full union freedom behind bars. Notions of solidarity, autonomy, emancipation and social reform shall not remain unknown words within the prison population any longer – we know that these are challenging demands.
The Prisoners Union is now existing for one year. What have you achieved so far?
First of all, we as prisoners, in conjunction with solidary colleagues outside the prison, succeeded in establishing an autonomous and self-determined lobby for questions of union work. We unveiled the locked down labor sphere behind prison walls to the public. We are currently on the spot in 45 German prisons, with around 600 members. Since months we are carrying on a workload that pushes us to our limits and often beyond.
What are the possibilities of political union work within the prison walls?
In jail, activists operate within tough limitations. Nonetheless we are trying to push forward several initiatives. For example, we started an “activating research” among the union members in order to conduct a small statistical analysis that takes a close look to the “Special Economic Zone Prison”. With the subsequent data evaluation we are offensively aiming to make the state legitimated low-wage labor a subject of discussion for a proposed action day throughout Germany. Further on we drafted a letter of application that allows imprisoned colleagues to demand their statutory minimal wage at the prison’s employment service. Imprisoned workers are neither explicitly excluded from the minimum wage legislation nor are they subject of transitional arrangements. A further concrete goal is to enforce the right of free assembly within the individual prisons so that union members can meet and discuss with non-imprisoned activists.
What institutional problems and resistance are you facing?
The harassment is massively increasing in individual prisons; resistance gets noticeable rougher: the union’s postal traffic gets stopped or gets “lost”, crackdowns in cells of union speakers, a climate of fear is created in single prisons and workshops in order to scare off curious prisoners from joining the union. Sheer union busting! In several prisons like Tegel, Willich, Würzburg, Frankenthal and Landsberg/Lech we have active proceedings going on at the Courts for the Execution of Prison Sentences in order to avert the illicit attacks of law enforcement agencies against union activities within the prisons. In order to cope with those anti-union aggressions, we as union need active solidarity from other (primary level) unions and unionists, so that the scheme of “no prison without GG/BO” gets distributed and embedded more widely.
Interview: Claudia Froböse
Translated by s!n
Germany and the Prison Industrial Complex at indymedia.uk
Website Prisoners Union GG/BO
Volkseten Vegazulu is a people’s kitchen, every monday and thursday, 7pm, vegan food for 4€ or donation. All benefits go for social & political struggles. No reservation.