Besides cutting off the poor and sick from medical assistance, Gov. Tom Ridge is implementing policies toward the labor movement that can only be described as fascist. These are:
- the privatization of prisons, and move toward expanding prison slave labor; and
- the cutback of labor rights, starting with workers' compensation.
The Ridge administration has introduced legislation to turn the state's prisons and jails over to private management. The companies vying for the job are Wackenhut Corp. and Corrections Corp. of America. They are selling their services, here as elsewhere, on the basis that they will reduce the cost to the state. In other words, they will reduce expenditure on food, medical services, and facilities--as the Nazis did--on the vicious principle that prisoners are "useless eaters."
The next step, as under the fascists, would be to introduce slave-labor industries into the prisons, by letting private companies come in to run for-profit operations. Bills to permit this have been introduced repeatedly in the last few years, but have not yet passed (although they have in other states, like Virginia).
Ridge's excuse for this policy is also like the Nazis: work is the solution. He put it this way: "Lest we forget the educational value of correctional industries, bootcamps, and even work gangs, that brings us to work. Soon there will be work gangs in every region.... We have 45 industrial shops located in 18 state correctional institutions. Our products range from office furniture to nursery products.... We are producing quality products and are saving taxpayers money."
Fritz Sauckel, head of slave labor for the Reich (who was hanged at Nuremberg), put it this way: "all the inmates must be fed, sheltered, and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent, at the lowest possible degree of expenditure."
So far, labor in Pennsylvania has opposed the privatization, and factories behind walls. They realize that it will mean replacing union labor with non-union employees, and will also lessen the safety of those around the prisons. As House Democratic leader H. William DeWeese put in his his March 14 weekly newsletter, "The motive of the Ridge administration is clear, and it is not the safety of the people who live near state prisons, where some of the most dangerous people on earth are imprisoned. The motive of the Ridge administration is to cut state expenses that benefit ordinary citizens in order to increase state expenses that benefit private interests."
In mid-June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted up an amendment to the state budget, which prevents prison privatization and outsourcing of jobs. But, as with the health cuts which the legislature first defeated, Governor Ridge is unlikely to have given up.
Nazi labor policy also called for directly suppressing the power of labor unions, and their wages and benefits. This aspect of the policy, Governor Ridge has made a top legislative priority, and pushed through a bill to change the rules for workers' compensation. The bill will make it easier for employers to terminate or reduce the benefits of those whom they claim can work--including an outrageous provision that would deny disability benefits after 500 weeks, for those whose loss is less than 50 percent capacity. As labor leaders have pointed out, losing a leg would count less than 50 percent disability.
The workers' compensation bill would also prohibit workers from earning more in compensation than they would while working, and guarantee some discounts to small businesses.