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Unite against Governor Rick Scott’s far-right agenda in the 2013 Florida legislative session

Editorial by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Florida District |
March 14, 2013
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On March 5, Governor Rick Scott delivered his State of the State address to the Florida legislature, marking the start of the 2013 legislative session. In his speech, Governor Scott continually referred to his right-wing policies, cuts to public education, and attacks on public workers like teachers. Scott repeatedly proclaimed, “It’s working.”

The important question is “Who is it working for?” We say “Not the people of Florida.”

Since Governor Scott was elected on the right-wing Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterm election, Florida workers, women, students, immigrants, African-Americans and Latinos are facing full-frontal attacks on their rights and their livelihood. However, tireless activists and organizers all across the state are leading people to fight back and beat some of the worst attacks by Governor Scott and the Republican-dominated legislature.

Now as the 2013 legislative session begins, the people of Florida must unite and fight again as Governor Scott pushes more cutbacks and renewed austerity.

The Republican Party dominates the Florida state government and senate districts in part due to gerrymandering. Voting areas are cut up and maps are manipulated in bizarre ways to favor Republicans. Electoral efforts in 2010 to redraw fair congressional and senate districts proved futile in breaking the Republican stranglehold. The Republicans lost their super-majority in the Florida House, but they still maintain a strong majority in both the House and Senate. Worse yet, many of the moderate Republican state senators who stood against Governor Scott’s more reactionary policies either lost to more radical Tea Party Republicans in the 2012 election or were term-limited out. All of it means that the Florida legislature is even more right wing and crazy than last year.

The only appropriate answer to these attacks is mass organizing by the people of Florida. The Florida District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization will be working tirelessly in the trade unions, student organizations, immigrant rights groups, and by uniting with other progressive forces during the 2013 legislative session to oppose the reactionary policies of Governor Scott and his legislature.

House Bill 7011 – Bail Out Wall Street, Sell Out State Workers

Governor Scott and the Republican legislature are taking aim at the pensions and retirement benefits for state workers, including teachers and firefighters. 1.2 million current or former state workers and teachers are covered under the Florida Retirement System (FRS) defined benefits plan. House Bill 7011, which is still in committees, would close Florida's defined benefit retirement plan and force new state workers to take on a 401(k) plan instead.

This bill is part of a larger plan by Republican lawmakers to break the state government's obligation to workers and transfer the fate of their retirement benefits to Wall Street executives. On Jan. 18, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Republican Governor Rick Scott, who signed legislation that cut public workers' paychecks 3%, by forcing them to contribute to the FRS. Emboldened by their legal victory, the legislature is seeking to destroy defined benefits entirely.

Florida's pension system makes up a meager 2.4% of the state's annual budget. The pension plan is both sound and solvent, with 86% of its obligations fully funded. This move by the legislature has nothing to do with saving taxpayers money and everything to do with transferring the money for earned retirement benefits of workers to Wall Street banks and corporations.

With the 2008 financial market crash fresh in the minds of workers who saw invested retirement plans destroyed by Wall Street, HB 7011 seeks to deal state workers a major body blow. 401(k) plans lost an estimated $1.6 trillion - approximately one-third of their value - during the 2008 financial crisis, according to a Forbes article in December 2012, leaving many workers with significantly less for retirement. This high-risk model favors employers, corporations, and banks who gamble with the money in retirement plans, but they leave workers vulnerable to losing their retirement benefits.

Labor unions in Florida, including the Florida AFL-CIO, oppose the bill and are already organizing against it. Protecting FRS and opposing this massive transfer of workers’ money to Wall Street is a top priority for all progressive Floridians.

Fighting the School-To-Prison Pipeline

The Florida state government presides over the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth through a school-to-prison pipeline, which is a series of laws leading to arrests at school. So-called Zero Tolerance laws and minimum sentencing are racist tools of the state’s criminal injustice system. Florida ranks second to California in the U.S. for juvenile incarceration rates. The police and courts in Florida target low-income African-American and Latino youth for harassment, arrest and imprison them, starting at a young age.

The prison industry in Florida is highly lucrative for the private sector because of the state’s repressive laws. Private corporations take over prisons and cut deals with the state government to guarantee a certain inmate occupancy rate. In order to meet these rates, legislators pass harsher minimum sentences and imprison more youth. These private prisons also provide cheap, often involuntary, labor for corporations who profit from paying little in wages to inmates.

Organizations like Dream Defenders are leading the campaign against the school-to-prison pipeline. Dream Defenders demands the repeal of Senate Bill 2112, which allows local sheriffs to establish largely unregulated juvenile detention facilities, full of prisoner abuse and injustices.

During the 2012 legislative session, labor unions in Florida rallied to oppose mass privatization of Florida’s prisons and won. Although the legislature has heard no official legislation on prison privatization yet, Governor Scott and his allies have expressed interest in trying to pass this bill again.

Progressive forces must boldly oppose the Florida legislature’s racist, pro-prison agenda. Unite all who can be united against the expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline!

Blue Ribbon Task Force – Slashing Higher Education

Last year Governor Scott commissioned the so-called “Blue Ribbon Task Force” to make proposals for restructuring Florida’s higher education system. The members of the Task Force included wealthy elites, university administrators, and conservative bureaucrats. No faculty union representatives or students were invited to participate. Unsurprisingly, the Blue Ribbon Task Force proposals seek to take away the rights of students and faculty, raise tuition, and make higher education less accessible for low-income and working students.

Students and faculty overwhelmingly oppose the Task Force’s proposals. The United Faculty of Florida passed local and statewide resolutions condemning the proposals to raise tuition on non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors, which would gut liberal arts programs. Groups like Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of South Florida, and many other public universities have held mass demonstrations against the proposals. Widespread outcry has also focused on the deep budget cuts that higher education experienced every year since the economic crisis in 2008.

As legislation comes out based on the Task Force’s proposals, students and faculty must forge strong unity and resolutely oppose these devastating policies. The Florida legislature should “Chop from the top,” and cut the bloated salaries of administrators instead of slashing programs and jobs.

Parent-Trigger – Corporate-trigger for Public Schools

Across the country, like we saw with the teachers’ strike in Chicago, teachers, students, parents and public education are under attack by the rich. This year, the Florida legislature is debating the so-called “Parent Trigger” bill, which would allow corporations to convert poor and under-funded public schools into private, for-profit charter schools. In the 2012 legislative session, teachers and students organized and defeated Parent Trigger in a close 20 for, 20 against vote tie.

One year later, Parent Trigger is back from the grave and its proponents will stop at nothing to see it passed. Jeb Bush wants to enact Parent Trigger in Florida so he can market these attacks through his Foundation for Florida’s Future to other states and use it as a model for privatized education. The legislature also hopes to further weaken and bust the teachers’ unions across the state by promoting charter schools. It has nothing to do with education and everything to do with making profit.

The Florida legislature refuses to give additional funding for schools they designate as failing. Public schools are funded by local property taxes, causing low-income working class communities to have underfunded schools. The legislature wants to use Parent Trigger to take control of public schools and further privatize education.

Parents, students, teachers, education support workers and whole communities need to organize once again and resist these attacks on Florida’s public education system.

“Local Preemption” – Republican “Big Business” Wage Theft

Another priority for the big business Republicans in the Florida legislature is House Bill 655, which will stop local governments from passing Wage Recovery Ordinances to protect workers' paychecks. Labor activists in Miami-Dade County set a standard for Florida by passing a local ordinance against wage theft by bosses. The new law recovered $437,000 in stolen wages for workers. Workers and unions in Gainesville have an ongoing campaign to enact a similar ordinance.

Wage theft is one of the ways that bosses increase their company profits. Each year approximately $30 billion is stolen from workers in the U.S. Lobbyists for the Florida Retail Federation are demanding politicians to pass HB 655 in order to stop the new ordinances from protecting workers' paychecks and preserve ‘business as usual.’

The Tea Party and the far-right love to rant about “big government,” but the Republican politicians in the Florida legislature are more than willing to take away the rights of the people so big business can profit - even from wage theft. Trade unions across Florida overwhelmingly oppose this “local preemption” bill and workers are taking to the streets to defend wage recovery ordinances in counties that have them.

Unite Against Rick Scott’s Far-right Agenda in the 2013 Florida Legislative Session

The legislative session is a time of great activity for Florida’s progressive forces. In 2010, teachers unions across the state fought and won the battle to veto Senate Bill 6, the so-called ‘merit pay’ bill. In the 2011 session, grassroots coalitions like Awake the State and Fight Back Florida led massive protests against Governor Scott’s right-wing agenda. In 2012, trade unions and student groups won victories against reactionary legislation attacking workers’ rights and higher education.

In 2013, progressives have an opportunity to deepen the people’s struggle in Florida during the legislative session. Overwhelmingly, session is a time when people are talking about politics. Confronting the reactionary policies of the governor and legislature is an important way that people can learn how the wealthy few run the state in their own interest. People can learn to fight and have an impact on the system of oppression we live under.

Some believe that change can only come through the ballot box or through corporate insiders lobbying at the capitol in Tallahassee. Instead, the Florida District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization calls on all progressive activists and organizers to grab their picket signs, join groups struggling for change, and take to the streets in the legislative session.