Details on the Founding of IWOC: Interview Selections

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Details on the Founding of

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC)

Selections from “These Conditions Can Be Changed”:

IWW Oral History Project

Permission Granted to Post Interviews Publicly

Brianna was interviewed on 2/12/18

What name should I record for this interview?


What are your preferred pronouns?

She or they

When did you join the IWW?

February 2011. 

Why did you join?

I joined out of spite towards capitalism. The IWW was the only union I learned about in my labor classes that captured what a union should be according to my view of it. 

Can you talk about your involvement with IWOC?

I was one of the founding members. That has been amazing, exciting and very fruitful. My friend Lorenzo Kom’Boa Ervin who was a former political prisoner, ex-Black Panther, had told me that the IWW should be a union for prisoners. I agreed, but was one person, didn’t think I could effect it. I was invited to conference call, supporting Free Alabama Movement, talking about stuff, I suggested we could also allow all prisoners to join the IWW without cost, and people agreed. Since that day there’s been constant paperwork and administrative stuff, back and forth, we’re still having that conversation now. Part of it is we’re forming a new Industrial Union, IU 613, something that hasn’t happened in 80 years, and building prisoner’s union that has never happened. George Jackson and later Missouri prisoners wanted it, but they lacked the outside support. At last Convention the union voted to not abide by section of national relations board. 

But the work has still been happened all along anyway. We know the union supports it, we know it’s good work, so what paperwork doesn’t mash up we keep working on. That’s been a huge thing, to not get discouraged by administrative pushback, just keep having the conversation until the administrative stuff get worked out. 

How did IWOC spread?

It started with a conference call, then we formed IWOC as a standing committee in the union, then we could branch out from there. We developed different things. First IWOC standing groups were in Kansas City and Twin Cities. Based on our experiences we started writing how to form your iwoc locals, and we reached out to membership in different ways. People would reach out to us, they would have a meeting and put one of us on speaker phone. 

Where are there active IWOC groups now?

There are 19 groups in total, I don’t know how active different groups are. Right now Gainesville is the most active now (Operation Push), Oakland is very active, Twin Cities is   Tidewater is pretty active, Milwaukee, and then another six of them are in different stages I’m not sure of, and 3 that are very new just getting started in the last month. 

What have IWOC conventions been like?

There were issues in 2015 with convention, confusion with Twin Cities that we weren’t actually going to their convention. We’re now not doing IWOC at the same time as convention.  People were saying that IWOC people should be coming to convention. After Oakland (2016) we realized the union was really into it, and that it was separate from the paperwork stuff that people were into.

What things have impressed you most in communication with incarcerated workers?

When incarcerated people hand-draw copies of the application form for the IWW. The enthusiasm impressed me the most. I’ve gotten letters from people appreciation for their IWW member, saying prisoner number is the number they’ve had, this is the only other one they’ve had. The appreciation people have for being part of something. Incarcerated people organizing in their workplace, they know they are facing death, they know they can be beaten, tortured, killed and no one will ever know what happened to them, and they do it anyway. That’s enthusiasm and desperation, they know they’re dying, and the IWW is one tiny sliver of hope for them. 

What would you most like to tell new members of the  IWW?

You are the union. Your thoughts are valuable. Your ideas are important. Everyone should listen to you and give you time and make sure that your concerns are addressed. 

Lemar Hybachi was interviewed on 5/3/20

What name should I record for this interview?

Lemar Hybachi

What are your pronouns?


How did you become an organizer?

In prison. Different books and zines talked about how to organize. Topics on anarchism, organizing, helped shape me into the organizer I became. This was in 2007. I was in a state prison in Pennsylvania. 

When did you join the IWW?

In 2008. 

Why did you join?

Because I saw the Preamble and it went along with the vibration I was leaning towards. I saw an Industrial Worker paper somewhere in prison, once I read it I knew I had to check it out. This was something that I believe in, something I’ve experienced, my class and the class that hires and fires us doesn’t have anything in common. 

My first delegate was in Allentown Pennsylvania, and when I went back to Chicago we started up a new IU number for the incarcerated workers organizing committee, and I helped with creating IWOC there. Brianna would send me info and address of people to write. 

She’s a powerhouse, has been a powerhouse for years. I would write recruitment letters. 

What was it like helping to found IWOC? 

It was great. I’m kind of laid back but energetic at the same time. Writing letters with the energy of revolutionary organizers was definitely an adventure. It’s proven to be effective. There are prisoners that write back asking for more information. The next newsletter is about to come back out. Our numbers in IWOC are increasing. We started off with zero, obviously, and through writing we grew. That was a big part of my organizing, straight up writing to prisoners, asking if they’d be interested in reading more literature, and considering the idea of joining up with people who said “fuck it, we’ve had a fucking enough”, working to change things. The numbers are climbing. There are 650 people in good standing now, over 1,000 not in good standing, people we haven’t heard from recently. IWW members are increasing behind enemy lines, that’s good for us and bad for them. It only takes one person to tell his cell-mate it’s fucked up we’re working for 19 cents an hour, there’s people trying to change it. 

I’d do push ups, talk with others about the preamble. Helping people realize and understand that the working class and the employing class have fucking nothing in common. Having that rapport with people who are down with our class is a hell of an empowering ally to have, that literature. Literature can be a prisoner’s strongest ally. 

Can you tell me more about conversations you had with people inside?

Most people would be like “where’s the address? I want in.” Prisoners are invisible, but aware of how marginalized they are. They see the exploitation. Bridging the gaps between the working class on the outside and inside is crucial. It’s a slave class, a lot of people aren’t paid a penny. When people see others are knowledgeable about something they listen. Knowing there’s people all across the world that are against wage slavery. Letting people know about different stuff, to consider work strikes instead of hunger strikes. Talking about how prison guards won’t give a shit if you die, they won’t even send a sympathy card. Talking about work stoppages to really get people’s attention, hit people at their dinner tables. Have these kinds of dialogs with people. Everyone I talked about work strike vs. hunger strike savored the work strike when it was brought up. I’ve been on hunger strike, I know what you go through, how hard it is. They used to isolate me a lot. You can push letters through opening, make a link of strings, allow people to pull zines or IWOC newsletter across the cell block. I used to tell people about this from that medium. I let folks know about May Day. About the truth of slavery. About the 13th amendment. 

When I went down to the County Jail, there were 15 on a cell box. They put me on strip cell status, they said I was suicidal, I wasn’t. I saw my file later, they had me as “black anarchist in correspondence with a group in Ohio.” People across the union made calls, got me moved. 

I got 8 of the 15 members to join the IWW and get involved with IWOC. My mail was being tampered with, long delays. 

What has your work with the Ex-Prisoners Caucus of IWOC been like?

It’s been great. It’s been an experience where I’ve connected with people that have gotten out of prison. We have discussions. We talk about different campaigns with phone zaps, COVID-19, and other stuff. I’ve been working with it for a few months now. There are phenomenal fellow workers there, I’m glad to work with them. 

Can you talk more about the prisoner solidarity efforts you’ve done with IWOC?

Letter writing. Receiving calls. Doing documentation as with the COVID crisis. Working now with inter-continental support. (I don’t like using the word national or international) IWOC is expanding our forces, there’s a comrade in South Africa who is putting out the Incarcerated Worker. We’re trying to connect with an IWOC member in Germany that we’ve lost contact with. We have a comrade in Bulgaria. We’re expanding even more. I’m active. When they released me they released something ideologically radio-active. I have years of oppression. My mom and I slept in abandoned buildings, no heat, no food. That and prison, mixed with revolutionary science, that produced one hell of a motherfucker. And it’s not just me, there’s over 2.3 million people locked up in this country alone. This is a milestone in history now. A lot of us are fed up! Reading, a little over a century since this was a crime punishable by over 100 lashes. 

What has gone well in IWW organizing you’ve been involved with?

IWOC. It’s one hell of a good thing. Folks have been trying to get prisoners into the union for decades. It’s a hell of a good thing, a major move forward. Workers are exploited just like slaves are exploited, the most exploited workers are the slaves. If we’re really passionate about union, about abolition of the wage system, there should be even more enthusiastic focus on the understanding that prisoners represent a raw revolutionary force. Use that and run with it. 95% of prisoners are scheduled to get out one day. If all those folks who are going to get out understand the system of oppression, why not get involved with people who are against this kind of slavery as well. That’s what it comes down to. People get pinball number sheets, will get 900 years. Their whole life is spent wasting away, working in a prison factory making t-shirts, making 19 cents an hour. It’s the most exploited sector. 

What organizing could have gone better?

I myself have made so many mistakes, that could be its own interview. I as a person could have written more to prisoners. I write people, but there’s so much need for it. Getting more volunteers to write more people could do more. Having people remember that there’s millions of people spilling, the resentment of it all. These are people we want pulled into the union more. Getting back to its revolutionary foundation. 

What would you most like to tell new members of the IWW?

Examine your life, and if you’re serious about helping people out of their poverty and their subservient position in life, take the responsible steps of joining as a free thinker. Present your own mind and cooperate with other like-minded Wobblies and individuals, there are people who are not in the union who feel just the same way as they hear about it. I salute you and admire you, because you’re doing the same thing that I did, and I’m having a blast.