Why We Should All Support Operation PUSH

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Quite simply, Operation PUSH is a fight against slavery. The work of abolition is not complete while there are people performing slave labor in this country. If you think of yourself as someone who would have come down on the side of abolition historically, you now have the chance to prove it. If you venerate Dr. King, who died while standing in solidarity with striking sanitation workers, stand in class solidarity with workers behind bars fighting capitalist exploitation today.

Starting this Martin Luther King Day, prisoners initiated a laydown strike against the Florida Department of Corrections(FDOC), stopping all mandated prison labor. Their demands are for payment for their labor, restoration of parole, and an end to price gouging in their canteen. Beyond the simple and hopefully obvious fact that nobody should be forced to perform slave labor, there are many reasons we must remember and act on the knowledge that prisons are an essential tool of the ruling class used to oppress us all, and that Florida’s strikers are fighting a very righteous battle despite the enormous danger it puts them in.

When a prison functions as a factory for private or state-owned business, in many ways it functions as a capitalist business like any other. The interest of its owners is to maximize profits for shareholders by pushing wages down as much as possible. Paying no wage and thereby utilizing slave labor is as bad or, exclusively in the eyes of the capitalist, as good as it gets. The oppression and exploitation of the predominantly minority and working-class prison population gives these prison enterprises higher profits than comparable businesses relying on wage labor. This higher profit can then be used to lobby for more “tough on crime” legislation, mandatory minimums and harsher anti-immigration policies. These laws allow prison profiteers to further expand their operations and attract more investment. This also allows for wages to be pushed down among non-incarcerated populations in the same sector.

It is clearly in the interest of the prison industry to leverage their economic power into political power and influence. The Prison-industrial complex uses this power to harm society at large, and especially the most impoverished and marginalized among us, by expanding the scope of the criminal justice system and police state. In 2015 the Washington Post reported that GEO and Corrections Corporation of America and associates have given more than $10 million to candidates since 1989, and spent nearly $25 million on lobbying.

Prisons are also central in sustaining and reproducing white supremacist dimensions of capitalism in America. We’re all aware of racist policing and sentencing. As prisons fill with poor people and people of color, their neighborhoods are emptied out and put at the ready for capital investment and gentrification. Lack of pay for hard work while incarcerated and employment discrimination against former felons contributes to recidivism and the perpetuation of cycles of poverty. Through the “war on drugs”, criminalization of poverty and of immigration, people who have harmed no one are labeled as criminals and all forms of abuse against them are excused by many as appropriate punishment.

When people of color are targeted and criminalized for behaviors that whites engage in in similar numbers, this builds a false and racist narrative that people of color are inherently more violent, or more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Both these overtly racist narratives, and the subtler racist policies and practices, work to pit working people against one another. Instead of focusing on the capitalists who create these systems of inequality, white workers are encouraged to view other races as a threat to their economic stability and as a criminal element.

The strike has always been recognized as the most direct and visceral exercise of working class power. Incarcerated workers, like any other workers, have the power to bring production and the generation of profit for their oppressors to a halt. This strike in particular will cost the FDOC a great deal not only by stopping production but also by forcing the prisons to contract out janitorial, laundry and kitchen duties to paid workers. Part of the peaceful demonstration of the strikers along with refusing to work is to refuse canteen, phone and visitation privileges which, due to excessive fees, are now yet another way to generate revenue from the prisoners and their families.

The prisoners have already faced retaliation for their peaceful protest. Many have been placed in solitary confinement, a torturous practice. One organizer, Rashid Johnson, sent word that he was being forced to endure freezing temperatures in retaliation for a piece he wrote exposing the conditions inside Florida’s prisons. As of this morning, word has come from inside that he is in better conditions and safe. Though of course meeting the prisoners’ demands will not be the end of the struggle against the prison industry, this strike has the potential to build great momentum and improve the lives of countless people stuck in Florida’s heinous prison system. It is the duty of all people of conscience to support them however they can!

Kate Miller-Byrne
Kentucky Workers League

Please follow this link for a list of things you can do today to support Operation PUSH: https://fighttoxicprisons.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/5-ways-to-support-fl-prisoners-going-on-strike-next-week/

And like The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (link: https://fighttoxicprisons.wordpress.com) and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (link: https://incarceratedworkers.org) for further updates

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