Penitentiaries, prison farms, and other institutions of incarceration have long been places of production as well as punishment. This essay suggests that it is time for the American working class to pay attention to penal facilities as sites of productive labor and wage competition and to recognize that its destiny is tied in subtle but important ways to the ability of inmates as well as prison guards to demand fair pay as well as safe working conditions. Similarly, it is time for scholars to probe this historical relationship more carefully. America's inmate population and its many prison guards have a very rich labor history. This “hidden” labor history helps us to better understand why this nation's penal institutions experienced so much upheaval in the 1960s and 1970s, and why the “free-world” working class has faced its increasingly uphill battle to secure and keep decently paying and safe jobs from the 1970s onward.

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