This article is part one of a series dedicated to letting Industrial Worker readers know what the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is doing. We are presenting several snapshots here of things we are currently working on as well as a profile of an IWW member who is currently incarcerated. Future installations in this series will include more in depth explanation and analysis of some of the more complex projects we are describing here.
Ivan Kilgore is an incarcerated member of IWOC and was part of the formation of IWOC itself. Ivan also very successfully runs numerous programs and engages with university students to establish prison abolition spaces through the The United Black Family Scholarship Foundation.
“The United Black Family Scholarship Foundation (UBF) is a student and volunteer-staffed 501(c)(3) nonprofit operating in Oklahoma and California. The organization was incorporated in Oklahoma on May 22, 2014, with a mission to use quality education as a way to challenge man- made structures and systems that perpetuate poverty and racism.”
He has authored several books on his formation which are available online: “Domestic Genocide” which is taught alongside Angela Davis books at UCSC, “Mayhem, Murder and Magnificence,” “King: The Early Years” and “King: Book 2”. His writing is based on his direct experience as an incarcerated person in the US and centers on the psychological abuse faced by Prisoners.
Ivan’s work expounds on how prisoners are subject to contagious and pervasive manipulation to break their resolve and acclimate them to the system. Ivan’s work has served as the basis for a PHD thesis and a visual media project referred to as the “Zo”. The Zo is an abbreviation of the Twilight Zone, a term describing the prison environment that strains the incarcerated individual’s sense of reality.
Forming Industrial Union Branches (IUBs)
There are currently two chartered IWW branches in prisons and two more developing. Many prisoners embrace IWOC and don’t even realize it is part of an organization that exists on the outside so there is also a large but undefined number of IWOC locals. Fellow Worker Tuck has been crucial in helping to get the second IUB chartered and has been in close contact with the first IUB as well. Communication and support are carried out via letter writing. In addition to an already challenging environment of censorship, transfers, and slow mail, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the process as mail has been slower than usual. Fellow Worker Tuck is working with a few other Fellow Workers in the union to try and help others learn how to get branches chartered inside.
Challenging Legal Slavery
For several years, IWOC has been part of various efforts led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and the National Lawyers Guild. Currently, IWOC is collecting essays from members in prison describing their experiences of slavery, forced labor, and coerced labor as part of an effort to hold the US and individual states accountable for violating international labor standards.
At the request of KC Homeless Union, Kansas City IWOC has opened its membership to homeless people, many of whom are ex-prisoners. After three months of occupying City Hall’s front lawn, KC Homeless Union won hotel rooms for five hundred homeless people for 3 months. IWW has some tension around community organizing due to many impractical aspects of trying to mobilize a labor union in any direction other than being a labor union. Seeking free labor union memberships for a population that has no need for a labor union does not seem like the best approach. Because KC IWOC can supply the support that the local homeless union needs and IWW membership is not needed for IWOC membership, they decided to just welcome everyone into the IWOC local. The homeless union victories come as a synthesis of workplace and community organization while simultaneously not undermining the IWWs right to be a labor union. They were recently approached about supporting tenant organizing in a similar manner.
Case Reader Program
IWOC assists incarcerated IWW members with legal research and filings. During his 36 years in prison, Fellow Worker Qadhafi has assisted people who are trying to file innocence cases. He supported people who got their cases overturned and they were set free. This program is based on that work. The people who are assisting each other are not lawyers or a paralegals but are simply dedicated to liberating people by helping those who are filing their own cases. Case Readers are skilled at reading cases and identifying winnable cases and then doing work such as interviewing witnesses that the cops didn’t interview, delivering appeals to court houses in person, or researching case law and providing a copy to the member who needs it. Case Readers and all recipients of this assistance are IWW members.
Getting Prisoners the Stimulus
In 2020, IWOC sent close to 1,000 tax return forms to inside members and contacts. Many were able to get the first stimulus, thanks to a lawsuit won by lawyers representing Colin Scholl, a California prisoner, against Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department. Yes, he is related to Sophie Scholl. We are continuing to monitor the situation regarding access stimulus checks for incarcerated people and guard’s malicious efforts to prevent them from getting their payments and are currently sending this year’s tax return forms to all our members.
In past years IWOC has been able to send and direct hundreds of books and pamphlets to our inside members. An engaging and accessibly written book may be read over twenty times in the prison setting. We have sent reading material to several members as they endure solitary confinement, sometimes imposed in retaliation for organizing. We send material on many topics, including organizing and legal advocacy.
During the 2021 Conference, IWOC revived its working groups: Inreach (everything to do with communicating with our members in prison), Media (this includes social media, press relations, and tech), Finance (fundraising, budgeting, etc.), Legal (everything to do with laws and court cases), Culture and Popular Education (literature development, archiving materials, maintaining social memory, etc.), and Admin (managing memberships, keeping records, helping people navigate IWW). All working groups need assistance and are currently welcoming new members. The NARA level working groups are a great way for At-Large IWW members to engage in meaningful union work from remote locations. Also, many cities have IWOC locals that hold events and letter writing sessions where workers on the outside can respond to or reach out to incarcerated workers. This activity had moved primarily online as a result of the pandemic but as things open back up, in person meet ups might begin again