The Prism

From Auschwitz to Chain Gangs: A Short History of Prison Labor

by Mark Cook

Prison labor is nothing new.

Chain gangs and labor details have been forced in the past to work for private businesses who have connections with the prison authorities. The conditions were monstrous, and the ensuing scandals produced an end--for a time--to some of the other practices. They are back.

But slave labor camps (which these prisons essentially are) have been used elsewhere, extensively, in this century.

There is usually a vast effort to deny the reality. Anyone depending on sources like the Time-Life Video History of the World would be taught that Jews and others were sent to camps like Auschwitz because one insane man hated Jews and had hypnotized a whole nation.

In fact, Auschwitz and similar installations were vast labor camps, immensely profitable for German capitalist firms. Over the front gate was written the slogan: "Work Makes Us Free." Workers were literally worked to death. They were fed practically nothing, and when too weak to work, were gassed. Nazi troops then went among the bodies and pulled the gold teeth from their heads and melted them down and made the bodies into candlewax.

That was almost the ultimate cannibalization of the labor force -- for the purpose, as now with the New York Transit Authority, of maintaining capitalist debt payments and the value of debt paper.

(In fairness, the Nazis did not eat the dead. But such an idea has now been proposed by Aurelio Peccei, who declared while head of the Club of Rome that it may be necessary to "learn from the boys" on the Uruguayan soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in the 1970's and who were forced to eat the flesh of their dead companions until finally rescued. This was a taboo that even the Nazis would not countenance violating, but which has been promoted in high circles, like the Club of Rome, in the last two decades.)

Interestingly, when the New York City Transit Authority declared that it was virtually broke and would have to resort to wholesale dismissals or to replacing unionized workers with welfare recipients, there was no consideration to renegotiating the Transit Authority's debt, a scandalous racket stretching back decades.

Bank debt is the one thing that cannot be touched. Workers can be dismissed permanently, train service cut drastically, repairs and ordinary maintenance ignored. But the mound of loan and interest paper owed to parasitic bondholders is treasured like the most sacred religious relic.

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