In Solidarity with Operation PUSH, Florida Incarcerated Workers Strike

By BRRN Anti-Criminalization Committee

On January 15, 2018 prisoners across the state of Florida will refuse to work, as part of a protest against the inhumane environmental and labor conditions in the Florida Department of Corrections.  This protest, named Operation PUSH, will take place on Martin Luther King day.

On January 16, 2018, a broad coalition of community organizations, including the Gainesville Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, Supporting Prisoners and Real Change (SPARC), and Florida State University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are staging a demonstration to bring light to the demands of operation PUSH:  

  1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
  2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
  3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates

In addition to the three immediate demands of Operation PUSH, the incarated organizers want the Florida Department of Corrections to:

  • Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
  • Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
  • Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
  • Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.

Operation PUSH

According to the full text for Operation PUSH, which can be found on the website of The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, the price gouging at canteens and wage theft for prisoners’ labor that has largely motivated the upcoming strike have been taking a significant toll on prisoners and their families.  Prices at the canteen can cost anywhere from 2 to 4 times the amount of the same item outside of prison and may be a worse quality item.

Subhuman wages for incarcerated workers have been a topic of discussion in the news recently, especially with media coverage of the women’s prison laborers who were fighting the California wildfires for only about $2 a day. The PBS article detailing this particular case of wage theft also connected the practice of paying prisoners negligible wages to slave labor and the history that ties prisons and the prison industrial complex to the racist Reconstruction-era convict leasing system. With the further privatization of prisons, the stigmatization of incarcerated people as criminals becomes all the more profitable. Operation PUSH’s authors recognize the cycle of poverty as it is connected to criminalization and recidivism. They are laying down and refusing to work in protest of these conditions. Operation PUSH is asking for the support of all prisoners across Florida’s DOC in this action until the governor is forced to deal with the stoppage of work and the cost of hiring out contracted workers to maintain prison facilities. This could cost millions of dollars each day the strike continues, which the state of Florida relies on incarcerated workers to do for a fraction of that cost.

Reintroducing parole incentives as Operation PUSH’s last demand states, is aimed at combating the increased criminalization and state-sanctioned gatekeeping mechanisms which disproportionately affect people and communities of color, as well as individuals without much financial support from family.

The opportunity to build working class and incarcerated peoples’ solidarity is another strategic goal that the authors of Operation PUSH’s demands clearly intend to advance at full force. They call for unity and solidarity in the struggle for basic human rights.  Several demonstrations will be occurring throughout the state of Florida at various DOC facilities coinciding with the strike and MLK Day.

If you enjoyed this article we also recommend this piece on the September 9 National Prison Strike and the need to “Bring the Call of Abolition Home.