Why the Left should support the Police Federation in its fight against the cuts (even if they’d rather not)

This post was written by Owen on March 8, 2011
Posted Under: Police,Society

It’s safe to say that relations between the police and the activist left – the revolutionary left in particular – are generally somewhat less than cordial. So with that in mind, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of reaction yesterday’s news of eye-watering cuts to officers’ wages and the possibility of a mass Police Federation anti-cuts march is going to get. We’ve already had a foretaste on this very blog, courtesy of guest blogger Jo O’Reilly, and the large numbers of lefties who have views like this SWPer (‘police violence is a result of the role they play in society. The police force is an arm of the state used for oppressing the working class’) makes it pretty likely that there won’t be a whole lot of solidarity from those waving the red flags for the boys and girls in blue.

But refusing to work with those within the police who oppose the cuts would be a mistake. And what’s more, it would be a mistake no matter how much of a fervent revolutionary Marxist you might be. As it happens I don’t think the police are the enemy of the working class, or that revolution of any stripe is remotely desirable in the UK at the moment, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the best way to stop the government wrecking everything we hold dear is to build the largest, most diverse alliance of people who oppose the cuts programme as possible. And trying to find common cause with people who might not be traditional allies of the left is exactly the right way to start doing that.

There’s also the small matter of how a deliberate refusal by the organised left to engage with anti-cuts police officers is going to look to the population at large. Generally speaking, most people quite like the police; loudly denouncing them as stooges of the boss class is likely to be a pretty good way to alienate people who might not be all that political but who are worried about the effects of hacking chunks out of the public services they depend on – exactly the kind of people that we really need to win over for the anti-cuts movement to be effective. One of the most powerful moments in the Wisconsin protests was when the local police union joined the activists occupying the State Capitol.

How willing do you reckon Cameron and Osborne would be to go through with their plans if reps from the Police Federation started doing stuff like that?

I’m sure there’ll be some people who’ll read this, disagree with it, and want to list all the many terrible things the police have done to anti-fascists, climate campers, student marchers and striking workers. I’m well aware of all of them. But, as a very sensible man once said, ‘any genuine mass movement depends on accepting anyone who agrees with its central issue’.

That very sensible man was Mark Steel, revolutionary socialist and sometime Third Estate interviewee, in What’s Going On? (page 176 in the paperback if you’re interested), a generally excellent book which I recently finished reading. He was defending the cooperation within the anti-Iraq War movement between the Left and Muslim groups whose views – on gay rights or sexual equality, say – they strongly opposed (for examples of this, please see any article posted at Harry’s Place. Ever.) If anyone can explain why it’s justifiable to march alongside someone who wants adulterers to be stoned to death but not with someone else who thinks kettling’s justified, I’m willing to listen. But until then, the Police Federation is welcome to my support, and hopefully yours too.

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Reader Comments

Micke

Certainly in a Wisconsesque situation it would be silly and ultra leftist to hold grudges out loud, and socialists do sometimes over simplify the police as directly personifying thier function, but it wouldn’t indicate much for the police to march for thier own self interest whilst still acting fullfilling the same role with regards all other actions.

On the desirability of revolutions I agree with you in a sense; a revolution in the UK is not desirable at the moment, but a revolutionary ideology does not mean predicting and hoping for a revolution tomorrow whatever the circumstances (I take quite a broard interpretation of “one solution – revolution”). It does mean having no illusions about the changes that can take place without one, but those are not entirely the changes I am worried about at the moment.

#1 
Written By Micke on March 8th, 2011 @ 10:44 pm
Owain

I’d like to see people calling the activist left when there’s a crime comitted, trying to get them to do something about it ” What’s that, you’ve been burgled? And what’s your job? Tax Accountant! Stuff you mate, property is theft.”

#2 
Written By Owain on March 8th, 2011 @ 11:45 pm
Micke

Ok, I was at least expecting a higher standard of straw man than that. Even from sections of the far left I have no desire whatsoever to defend I have never encountered the attitude you mock (and please look up the origin of “property is theft”). As for calling the police when a crime has been commited, of course you should. I have also never encountered a call on the left for the enitre police force to be dissolved as part of reformist aims. When we talk about the role of the police this is simply an observation that when it comes to conflict between the state and the organised working class, the job police are very definitely on one side and not the other. criticism of brutality and the general culture of the police, levels of racism etc, are also valid, but this is not black and white moral condemnation. The best illustration of this that I can think of is the states need to remove from policing some of the miners strike all the local police, as they were considered likely to be less willing to beat up thier own community. The role of the police does not arise from all policemen being vicious thugs, they are not, it arises from the role the state wants them to fulfill. In short (too late), any conflict with the state is potentially a conflict with the police. Seeing this does not make me David Spart.

#3 
Written By Micke on March 9th, 2011 @ 8:37 am
Micke

Mental apologies to Owen for misreading the name of the second commentor.

#4 
Written By Micke on March 9th, 2011 @ 8:40 am
john p reid

mickie, Jon Crudass famoulsly said at teh LAbour conference alst year that Labour proposed getting rid of the police at the 83 election , and hte polce federation said at that time “they could’nt see how they could work with labour to maintian law and order”

micke it was a fact that alot of the Met police who went to areas for the miners strike were either stopping kent miners at the dartford tunnel or were born up north and Came down form their for a job,case point the 3 p.c.s attacked at Braodwater farm Dickie Coombes Stee Martin and Keith Blakelock were all from Newcastle.

#5 
Written By john p reid on March 9th, 2011 @ 9:50 am
John reid

aswell as the police federation there’s the civilian side with their union CPS to support

#6 
Written By John reid on March 9th, 2011 @ 2:55 pm
Micke

Just looked up labour manifesto from 1983 and the Jon Cruddas speech you refer to. His comments were a) not true and b) quite obviously hyperbolic. I haven’t yet deciphered the rest of your comment.

#7 
Written By Micke on March 9th, 2011 @ 8:32 pm
John reid

Yes they were hyperbole on Cruddas behalf, as far as I know the only things that Labour said in 83 was get rid OF riot police and scrap any form of Stop and Search (the sus laws being replaced by stop and search under pace at the time) the same thing was said by The GLc and proposed and got through labour party conference in 86 (although Kinnock said it would’nt be in the manifesto and pleaded for the party not to vote for it)
plus the scrapping of MI6, armed police, policing of strikes and speical branch

#8 
Written By John reid on March 9th, 2011 @ 10:20 pm
Fred H

You might want to remember when you talk about Wisconsin that within a week the same policemen were dragging protestors out of the Capitol building.

But why should we be suprised that a supporter of the fucking Labour Party is also a supporter of the cops?

#9 
Written By Fred H on July 13th, 2011 @ 7:58 pm
Dave S

The comparison with working with Muslim organisations is spurious and really quite tasteless. In the one hand: as if MCB, BMI, MPAC etc and the many thousands of people they mobilised are defined by their lust for the blood of adulterers! That kind of crass Islamophobia that has no place on the left. And on the other: “someone else who thinks kettling’s justified” is not the issue – we’re talking about the people who do kettling, not people who have illusions in it.

And really Fred has an important point. The defining role of the police is to maintain order, and in practice that means holding our movement back with whatever violence is necessary. The sentiment that ‘any genuine mass movement depends on accepting anyone who agrees with its central issue’ comes from a good place, but needs a few important caveats.

The class divide and class struggle are pretty central to the battle over austerity, and the police are on the wrong side. Trying to build unity that straddles this divide comes at too high a cost. Will we be able to call for militant tactics on the streets if we’re worried about alienating the police? It’s the same kind of problem as if we tried to keep critical elements of the business community onboard – it would make it harder to support strikes – or if, as some people argue, the anti-war movement allied with defenders of the Gaddafi regime – it would make it harder to support the Arab Revolutions.

Like Micke says it’s not about a personal, moral condemnation of the police – it’s about recognising their role in relation to the state and to class society. If we want to win this we have to recognise the enemy.

#10 
Written By Dave S on July 14th, 2011 @ 11:52 am

If you want to try and build a movement with mass support on a platform of explicitly denouncing all police officers as lackeys of the capitalist state, be my guest. Be sure to let me know how far you get with that. Not entirely sure where you’re getting the ‘crass Islamophobia’ thing from, but if casually throwing around unfounded accusations of bigotry is what makes you happy then knock yourself out. Literally, for preference.

#11 
Written By Owen on July 18th, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

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