Inmates Launch Month-Long Strike to Protest 'Slavery Conditions' in Florida Prisons

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, January 14, 2018

Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.

In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:

We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.

African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.

Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.

"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."

On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.

"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."

Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.

Tom Harding and Richard Labrie Did Not Cause The Lac-Mégantic Tragedy

By admin - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 14, 2018

Any conviction of rail workers at the end of the long danger chain is an obstacle to safety or accountability. That can only come from a full public inquiry that holds policy makers responsible.

Here’s a review of some of the critically important factors that will never be addressed by scapegoating rail workers

The Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) rail management and their US based parent company Rail World Inc put communities and employees at risk across the region, and not just in the specific instance of the Lac-Mégantic wreck. These increased risks almost all still exist, without local benefits or safeguards. None of the volatile crude oil shipped contributes to the regional economy but all the risks are local.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run unit trains of the most explosive oil:

  • With a single crew member who could ONLY move the train forward. Reverse moves and splitting for any safety eventuality was prohibited by this decision.
  • In known inadequate tank cars that were mislabeled as to content.
  • too long to fit in the available derail protected siding, which are designed for the purpose of holding such trains and use of which would have guaranteed that the wreck couldn’t have happened.
  • with completely inadequate liability insurance for any risks they imposed on communities.
  • without any plan for fire and other consequences that might occur with it’s dangerous cargo.
  • without backup qualified staff to respond to eventualities such as the locomotive fire. They refused to send the only and obvious qualified person available (Harding) to check the train in order to save money. Ruthless cutting of the workforce made qualified backup unavailable.

MMA made the deliberate decision to run the locomotive that caught fire in the lead despite:

  • known defective repair that ultimately led to the fire
  • known defective performance that also increased local environmental damage
  • known defective rollaway protection in the wiring of the battery
  • requests for the simple reordering of the consist that would have absolutely prevented the wreck

MMA made the decision to purposely overload the safety weight limits on individual inadequate tank cars for the sole purpose of profit with no concern for consequences of their action. There was no meaningful oversight of this crucial aspect of safety by Transport Canada or anyone else.

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 15, 2018

A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras (In the Struggle There Are No Borders)

By Kathia Ramirez - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, January 11, 2018

Fifth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel with 7 other comrades on an Agroecology Exchange to South Africa. This Exchange was a continuation of a process that had initiated in 2015 which was the same year that I was introduced to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Although there was much traveling, it was an amazing experience to see and learn from farmers, farmworkers, activists, and people in the community who are struggling due to the current food system.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to interpret for another delegate and feel the dynamic of how language is not a barrier to being able to relate across seas. The experience interpreting allowed me to relate and connect both with people in South Africa as well as to the stories that were shared with me from my same culture since I share a similar background to the delegate I was interpreting for. During our visit to Limpopo, members of the Mopani Farmers Association put together a cultural event just for us and once again, I felt the connection through dance and music despite our different backgrounds. It brought so much to mind for me: from appreciating the work that I am doing to learning more about my own culture from which at some point I have felt very disconnected.

When we arrived in Citrusdal, Cape Town and were hosted by the Surplus People’s Project, we honored International Rural Women’s Day through participating in a Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, and an assembly for the International Day of Eradication of Poverty. As members and allies of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, we participated on the last day and had the opportunity to share about our experiences and also had the chance to be part of a panel discussion, where we had both Farmer and Farmworker delegates sharing their stories. Among those on the panel were member organizations from The Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign. It was amazing to see how even though we joined these organizations on the last day of their three-day meeting, we were easily able to engage because our struggles are very similar. We were also very welcomed to engage when we participated in a meeting with Urban Farmers in Cape Town, and again, we identified some of the same issues that are affecting us although we are from two different countries.

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

Dreaming With Our Hands: On Autonomy, In(ter)dependence, and the Regaining of the Commons

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, January 9, 2018

“It was like an atomic bomb went off” a local Boricua, as people born in Puerto Rico are often called, is saying about the view of the mountains the day after Maria passed. “Every branch, and every tree, was torn apart and broken, and scattered everywhere. Every green area was gray and brown.” The view now, almost three months after las tormentas, is eerie. The greenery is back, but the forests are very bare compared to how they were. Things can appear to be normal, except for the 60 foot telephone pole hanging over the edge of a cliff here, or leaned over at 45 degree angles onto a building there. As long as they still carry power to their destinations they’re left alone, even doubled over, to triage the other downed poles that are actually causing disruptions in the grid. These remnants of devastation can be seen everywhere, and everywhere there are people getting by and adapting to the changes Irma and Maria left behind with whatever limited tools are at their disposal.

I, a Brooklyn born Puerto Rican, arrive in Puerto Rico, or as the native Taíno people call it, Boriké, and meet up with a small team of two traveling partners. Our visits to Caguas on my first week were breathtaking, getting to know people, and watching the amazing projects that communities here are putting together. The town itself is very old, largely abandoned and magnificently beautiful. The streets in the pueblo are narrow and the buildings made of cement, painted bright pastel colors, with old Spanish architectures. Everywhere lay murals with sayings of hope, independence and resistance. In our short visits, we were able to glimpse how people here have begun rebuilding their lives, coming together to reimagine the kind of world they want to create.

Since before the hurricanes, the downtown neighborhoods were losing their small shops and local markets to the incurring large chain stores that sprouted up less than a mile away. Still, one immediately gets the sense that this town is full of cultural life and spirit much different from that felt in wealthier neighborhoods, like the gated community in Guaynabo we stayed in. In traveling to different parts of the island, we can see houses on the coast of Aguadilla that were cut in half by mini landslides, and traffic lights and highway signs stashed beside the roads with the piles of detritus and branches.

We’re on the northwestern part of the main highway that encircles the island now, and traffic comes to a halt for a half hour. It was raining for only 20 minutes, but it left a 4 foot deep puddle along a large stretch of the often overcrowded road. As we finally reach the end of the bottleneck, we see the flooding is being manually fixed by a single worker in swamp boots unclogging the drainage holes with a broomstick. I get the sense this is an example of how the municipalities in Puerto Rico aren’t equipped to properly handle the crisis.

In speaking with people, it comes as no surprise to them either that the government isn’t doing much to resolve the problems here. As many non-Boricuas are only now discovering, the island’s government has been suffocated with public debts, issued and purchased by predatory Wall Street hedge funds. Aligning with what has now become a global custom with these kinds of debts, Puerto Rico’s creditors are forcing the island’s government to enact austerity measures on the population, with help from the US and its Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. This Board is an unelected entity established by the US Congress to decide how Puerto Rico spends the tax revenue collected from its people.

“They don’t serve the interests of Puerto Ricans,” Maritza, a local community organizer says, “They serve the interests of Wall Street.” She explains how the Board members assign themselves their own salaries. “The chair of the Board decided to make $625k this year, and overall the Board costs $300 million to operate, paid for by Puerto Rican tax dollars.” It’s their job to make sure Wall Street hedge funds can keep getting payments from Puerto Rico’s unquenchable debt, and in the process, ensure that Puerto Rico never has a prosperous and self-sufficient economy. By gutting funding for healthcare, education, food assistance, public sector jobs and critical infrastructure development, this policy instead ensures a continually collapsing economy. Maritza describes the Board as wanting “to keep us like a banana republic, a place with only low-wage jobs for corporations to profit off of,” and I believe her. FEMA and the Puerto Rican government failed in meeting people’s basic needs after the storms, but in their absence, I’m told old and new community organizations took the lead and saved many lives.

Florida Gears-Up to Offer Solidarity to #OperationPush

By staff - It's Going Down,

On January 15th, prisoners in Florida are set to take action against prison slavery across the state.

According to Fight Toxic Prisons:

[T]hese prisoners plan to initiate a work stoppage or “laydown” beginning Monday, January 15th, coinciding with MLK Day, in nonviolent protest of conditions in FL prisons. They are calling it Operation PUSH.

Their primary demands are clear and concise: end prison slavery, stop price gouging, and fully return parole. They believe these issues have directly created the overcrowding that is responsible for the deplorable conditions in Florida prisons.

Their statement also raises other major issues that need to be grappled with, including the death penalty, voting rights and environmental health conditions.

Prisoners themselves have also issued a statement about their reasons for organizing the action:

We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.

We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:

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

Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:

• 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.

Also, Haitian prisoners in Florida have issued a statement in support of Operation PUSH, both the Final Straw and Kine Line have released interviews with organizers involved with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about supporting the strike, and IGD’s Bloc Party was able to conduct an interview with an incarcerated organizer, which you can read here.

Protests Coast To Coast, And Even Abroad Meet The Final Phase Of The Lac-Mégantic Trial

By admin - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January8, 2018

The most important rail safety trial of our time will soon be in the hands of the jury. They are tasked with the difficult decision of whether or not to hold rail workers accountable for actions of their employers because it’s plain that there will be no other accountability, despite what is now a matter of public record.

The wrong people are on trial. Check out this interview with RCI, Radio Canada International. 

The stakes are high. But fortunately, many people across North America are not fooled by the Crown’s phony veneer of holding people personally accountable for the tragedy. No such real personal accountability will ever be made, since the government made it’s decision to target only the last persons in a danger chain that continues across every railroad to this moment.

On January 4th and 5th, in cities across America, people took their call for real rail safety, No More Lac-Mégantics and opposition to scapegoating workers to Canadian consulates as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil. In several cases, they had to experience severe weather but came out anyway, knowing how important this case is. Active rail workers, Union members, working class militants, rail and other retirees protested in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Washington DC and Minneapolis. Solidarity activists, Climate Change fighters, volatile oil opponents and environmental activists turned out their support to add their voices to the protests and delivering notice to the Canadian government that justice and rail safety cannot be served by framing up rail workers for the conditions they are forced, with government complicity, to work under. In some cities, they delivered printed statements and letters to consular officials.

The Fable of Localism

By Isaac Kreisman - Socialist Worker, January 9, 2018

AN AGING former ski coach and radio personality holed up at the end of a dirt road in rural Vermont may be an unlikely hero for a fictional rebellion story.

The new novel Radio Free Vermont isn't the work of a local eccentric, though, but perhaps the most prominent voice of the contemporary environmental movement: Bill McKibben. While the 350.org founder and Middlebury College professor has been publishing books for decades, Radio Free Vermont is his first novel--or "fable" as the author calls it.

While the book doesn't make any claims to be putting forward a political position or program, the imaginings of McKibben are worth engaging with. The professor and activist has a well-deserved reputation as a leading public intellectual and tireless organizer for climate justice.

His critiques of the fossil-fuel industry and policies of politicians of both parties have been unsparing, and he is vocal in advocating grassroots mobilization as essential to addressing the environmental crisis. In 2016, he was a surrogate in Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, and was appointed by Sanders to the Democratic Party's platform committee.

The back cover of Radio Free Vermont sports endorsements not only from Sanders but also from Naomi Klein, the author of the recent bestseller No Is Not Enough.

Gov. Jerry Brown Already Expanded Offshore Oil Drilling in State Waters

By Dan Bacher - CounterPunch, January 8, 2018

California Governor Jerry Brown today joined Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee in condemning Trump’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling in federal waters – at the same time that California regulators under Brown have expanded offshore oil drilling by 17 percent in state waters.

“This political decision to open the magnificent and beautiful Pacific Coast waters to oil and gas drilling flies in the face of decades of strong opposition on the part of Oregon, Washington and California – from Republicans and Democrats alike,” the governors proclaimed in a joint statement.

“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science,” they said.

“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” they concluded.

Brown also issued a personal statement blasting Trump, pledging “resistance” to Trump’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle,” Brown claimed.

Those are nice words condemning Trump’s plan to open new offshore oil drilling leases on both coasts. However, what the Governor’s Office press release and most media neglected to mention is that Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved permits for 238 new offshore wells between 2012 and 2016 in existing leases within three nautical miles of shore, according to Liza Tucker, consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog.

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