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Black Cats Bond: The Industrial Workers of the World and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter

By Kevin Rashid Johnson - Kevin Rashid Johnson, June 3, 2015

I have, as an active leading member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC), recently joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) upon its founding the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC).1

The IWOC’s stated purpose is to “function [ ] as a liaison for prisoners to organize each other, unionize, and build solid bridges between prisoners on the inside and fellow workers on the outside.”2  To this end the IWW has recognized:

“Prisoners are on the front lines of wage slavery and forced slave labor where refusal to work while in prison results in inhumane retaliation and participation in slave labor contributes to the mechanisms of exploitation. The [IWW] has consciously grasped the importance of organizing prisoners so that prisoners can directly challenge prison slavery, work conditions, and the system itself: break cycles of criminalization, exploitation, and the state sponsored divisions of our working class.  At the same time, the prison environment and culture is a melting pot of capitalistic and exploitative tactics and all forms of oppression.  These poisons must be challenged in prisons, institutions, and in all of us, through organized working class solidarity.”3

The NABPP-PC has unity with this line and purpose, and allies with the IWW to these and broader ends.  Indeed we have for years advanced the idea of extending union membership to prisoners.4 So the IWOC’s founding is right on time!

The NABPP-PC is not a traditional communist party, but rather a pre-party formation that advances the cause of revolutionary intercommunalism, and whose target base is the oppressed urban masses and prisoners (the lumpen and unemployed in particular5 ) of all nationalities, “races,” etc., but especially New Afrikans/Blacks.  Within the NABPP-PC we have the White Panther Organization (WPO) and Brown Panther Organizing Committee (BPOC), which operate as arms of the NABPP-PC to bring our line and strategy to all other oppressed peoples.

The NABPP-PC is guided by the ideological and political line of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM).  We unite in camaraderie with all whom we can to oppose the oppressive capitalist imperialist system, racism and repression, whether they share our line or not.

Various strata of the working class in Amerika have been spontaneously rising in protest against unsatisfactory work conditions and wages.  From those in the lower service trades, to teachers, to public sector workers.  Many have been oriented to more radical politics than mere trade unionism which only aspires to workplace and wage reforms.  This was evidenced in the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in September 2011 and quickly spread across Amerika.  Various ‘mainstream’ sectors have been reaching for political lines that address greater social ills like capitalist driven environmental crisis, imperialist wars, the proliferation of “terroristic’ violence especially in regions of the world destabilized by the policies and actions of the US and its allies, police violence, sexism, prevailing racism, mass imprisonment, etc. Only a thoroughgoing revolutionary political line can connect clear analyses and solutions with these questions.

During the early 1900s proletarian revolutionary fervor and organizing was at its height in Amerika, especially with the organizing work of Communists and Anarchists allied within the IWW.  Much of this was lost as state repression clamped down on the IWW and the Communists were pulled out of the IWW by the Comintern, and concentrated in the more traditional unions from which they were in turn driven during the post- World War II era of the Cold War, Red Scare and anti-communist witch hunts.  As a result the working class struggle ground to an unceremonious halt, from which it has not since rebounded.

The Communists of that era made many tactical errors, one of which, implied here, was to abandon the unions and the revolutionary work of raising the workers’ political consciousness and organizing within them.

Reflecting on this history has given us food for thought about today’s labor movement.

The AFL-CIO is bankrupt, but the IWW has definite possibilities.  It has grown dramatically in recent years and probably benefitted more from the Occupy Movement than any other organization.

From just a few hundred members it grew to a national membership of several thousands since Occupy started.  From this we saw three different possibilities for future growth.

  • 1.  Formation of IWW caucuses within existing unions
  • 2.  Organizing unemployed workers
  • 3.  Formation of a prisoners’ union under IWW sponsorship and for granting prisoners IWW membership

The third has been done.  As the Prison Industrial Complex grows, the issue of unionizing prisoners becomes more practical, particularly as regards unpaid or barely paid labor and human rights in general.

In its heyday, the IWW was the closest thing to a mass revolutionary movement this country had seen prior to the old Black Panther Party.  It was an important spawning pool for the Communist Party even though the Comintern pulled the communists out to concentrate them in the AFL and later the CIO.

With the bulk of the workers now concentrated in the low-wage ser-vice sectors, and a largely de-industrialized domestic economy since the 1970s, there isn’t the basis to support a typical labor union infrastructure in Amerika.

We promote assigning Panther cadre to work within the Union to develop it as part of the United Panther Movement [4] with a concentration on workers in the oppressed communities, prisoners and the unemployed.  This would help to build the United Front Against Capitalist – Imperialism, Racism and Repression and a mass anti-imperialist movement.

To these ends the NABPP-PC unites in programmatic unity with the IWW whose symbol like our own is that of a riled black cat!

Dare to struggle dare to win!
All power to the people!

The IWOC can be contacted by prisoners at:

IWOC
P.O. Box 414304
Kansas City, MO 64141-4304

  1. Article II, sec. 1.c. of the IWW Constitution permits membership to unpaid officers of political parties. []
  2. The Incarcerated Worker, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2015, p.1 []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. See, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Promoting Proletarian Consciousness as Prisoner Rehabilitation (2007), http://rashidmod.com/?p=374 []
  5. For an analysis of our line on the lumpen and the proletariat as our mass base, see, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, The NABPP-PC: Our Line (2005), http://rashidmod.com/?p=286 []

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.