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