The case for class solidarity with coppers

This post was written by Reuben on September 23, 2012
Posted Under: Uncategorized

Are they “workers in uniform” or merely the violent arm of the ruling class? So runs the old, interminable intra-left controversy about the exact position of the police within the social structure. By contrast Andrew Mitchell MP appears to have no such doubts about the class character of the constabulory. His recent outburst  demonstrated, with crystal clarity, his view  of the police as a collection of  lowly proles who should aspire to “learn their  fucking place”.

This is by no means the first moment of class tension between the coalition and the cops. As with other public sector employees, the government is getting ready to decimate the pay and conditions of rank and file officers. In an effort to prepare public opinion for such a move, it commissioned Tom Winsor –  the failed regulator of the railways, and former corporate lawyer – to write a damning report on the police. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report read like a shopping list of  the stereotypes that posh folk attribute to those whom they see as working class oiks. The Police apparently, are overweight, overpaid, stupid and lazy. What’s more, they are compromised by their “blue collar” working culture. In this instance too, it would appear that the current governing class are significantly less ambivelent about the class character of the police rank and file than us on the left.

Now I’m sure some of my readers will see the idea of class tension between the Tory government and the police as a kind of logical impossibility. After all aren’t they one of the special bodies of armed men? Isn’t it the police function to defend privelege and private property?  While this may be a fundamental truth, the specific relationship between the police and class society can also vary with the historical context. What made Andrew Mitchell’s outburst particularly illuminating is that it came so soon after the Hillsborough report revealed the extreme lengths to which a previous Tory government went to protect the police from criticism or reputational damage. That they did so should not to surprise us.  The 1970s and 1980s, after all, were decades of intense class struggle. Amidst ongoing strikes, and militant picket lines, the Thatcher government had depended on a strong, aggressive, and intensely loyal police force to push through its agenda. The power of the ruling class, in other words, depended very directly, upon the coercive capacity of the police.

The context in which Mr Mitchell made his recent remarks are, of course, very different. Unions strike a day at a time, the poll tax riots have given way to intensely stupid riots, and picket lines are typically rather placid affairs.  Amidst the mix of functions carried out by the police, their role in directly and coercively propping up the social order is now relatively less pronounced. Meanwhile, rank and file officers have been brought into conflict with the government by the kind of class war that the coalition are waging. Most significantly, this has revolved around a concerted effort, by both government and business leaders, to roll back entitlements and expectations, and to  narrow the breadth of people who benefit from decent living standards and economic security – a rather poisonous mixture of proletarianisation and casualisation that is affecting great swathes of employees. As a part of the public sector workforce that have, until now, been treated relatively well by the establishment, it is no surprise that the cops now find themselves point in the government’s cross-hairs.

Even with all of this said, I’m sure that many will congeal at the idea of class solidarity with the rank and file police. After all, aren’t these the folk who crack down on dissent and protect the government from protest. If you live in a safe area, and go on lots of demos, then this may be all you see the police do. In reality, the day to day work of most officers has less to do with policing dissent, and more to do with dealing with thuggery, robbery and domestic violence – crimes typically committed against the least well off. Yes the police do a lot which is useless and socially desctructive – busting people for drugs and breaking into squats. Yet like other public sector workers who facing redundancies, lower pay and less security, also do a great deal of work which is socially necessary and which will always be socially necessary (notwithstanding the view that all forms of criminally undesirable behaviour spring from some amorphous thing known as “alienation”,  and will therefore dissapear once the social structure is changed – if you actually believe this, then I laugh at you for being a fucktard.)

The police are facing the same kind of attacks – materially and ideologically – that millions of us are facing. It is no surprise that their union, the federation, are beginning to get oppositional. A fissure is opening up, and the case for class solidarity has never been clearer.

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Reader Comments


This article is horrible and you’re horrible. Please die.

Written By Stalin on September 24th, 2012 @ 2:34 am

This is the worst thing I’ve ever read. Alienation doesn’t exist. The riots were ‘stupid’, the miners strikes weren’t, probably because they were white, idk. If you live in a degenerated inner-city area then you’d see that the police are great. Are you Melanie Phillips in disguise

Written By MAO TSE-TUNG on September 24th, 2012 @ 4:14 am

Jesus fucking christ what is this horseshit cop apologia? Its like you’ve read some centuries old talk on lumpenproletariat and declare the cops are protecting us from this strange nebulous evil along with the talk of no alienation and putting down the riots as “stupid”

Please die.

Written By Hoxha on September 24th, 2012 @ 4:31 am

Wow, what a load of idiotic crock. Cops are garbage, and even if you want “solidarity” the best solidarity would be letting the cops get treated like shit until they decide to quit being cops.

Written By Lenin on September 24th, 2012 @ 7:21 am

I haven’t got time to take issue with the many things I disagree with in this article but the apparent claim that it was just the government which went to “extreme lengths … to protect the police from criticism or reputational damage” is ludicrous. The police went to extreme lengths to protect themselves (from prison, as well as criticism). If you’re going to do a whitewash on the police, at least grant them some agency for their own actions.

Written By julia on September 24th, 2012 @ 7:25 am

Wow, three critical comments in a row from people calling themses “stalin”, “mao tse tung”, and “enver Hoxha”. Never felt so validated.

Written By Reuben on September 24th, 2012 @ 9:30 am

And Lenin too! It’s like everyone you’d want to punch on the left has come out to play at once.

“In reality, the day to day work of most officers has less to do with policing dissent, and more to do with dealing with thuggery, robbery and domestic violence – crimes typically committed against the least well off.” – this last bit is a good point and worth making loudly and often. Even when the police are being utter shites in terms of dealing with protest and dissent there’s still a great deal of police work going on that’s helping the same people the left has traditionally cared about, and that’s surely a good starting point for any solidarity with them.

And how else are the police going to be shaken out of the mindset of ‘it’s us against those criminal squatters/protesters/etc’ if not by those same people showing support for those parts of the force that come out against the government’s cuts? It seems to me that it would be an important part of combating that mindset, anyway.

Written By AdamP on September 24th, 2012 @ 9:54 am

Well done for using the word ‘fucktard’.

Written By ANONDOG on September 24th, 2012 @ 10:00 am

This is appalling. As a working class person who had the misfortune to date a copper for a number of years, I can attest that most of their “day to day activity” consists of hassling the homeless as well as keeping up a general background level of racism, sexism and classism against everyone they encounter. The police do remarkably little work which is “socially necessary” – most such “low level thuggery” is, if at all possible, classed as a “no crime”, for ease of paperwork and massaging of statistics. Their record on dealing with rape, domestic violence, and so on, is terrible, and in fact the only thing they seem to be any good at is constant intimidation of black people through absurd levels of stop-and-search.

It is not “working class” to partake in the police’s racist, sexist “canteen culture”, collaboration on statements, and so on. This is part of the repressive structural role of the police, something which your apparent privilege (and patronising attitude towards the “working class”) seems to have insulated you from entirely.

This is an appalling article and I feel embarrassed to even associate myself with it by commenting in refutation.

Written By Cel on September 24th, 2012 @ 11:24 am

Wow, what total bs! Where is your solidarity with the working class & impoverished people accosted, harassed, stopped, terrorised and brutalised by the police nationwide on a daily basis. They are class traitors through and through and this is a disgusting piece of wank. Eurgh.

Written By Anna Fleur on September 24th, 2012 @ 2:28 pm

This is, honestly, a terrible article. Aside from what people have said above (especially Cel), about your patronising attitude and white-washing attitude when it comes to the actions of the police, you have absolutely no idea what it means to be working class.

Are the people the police routinely abuse, debase, assault and kill not working class? I’d rather stand in solidarity with them than pretend like I have some obligation to champion the bigots I and my friends have been assaulted by because they’re the armed guard of the upper classes. I shouldn’t be surprised that a group who only have one female (ex-) member wouldn’t comment on the shocking rates of convictions for rape and intimate partner violence which are thanks in no small sum to the actions of the police – who, as we saw this month will even go to the lengths of sabotaging cases.

If I’m supposed to have solidarity with cops, where in the hell is their solidarity with us?

Thankfully people have more sense (and experience of the police) than to listen to the braying, unevidenced proclamations of smug Oxbridge graduates.

Oh, and your argument was helped a thousand-fold by your use of disablist slurs, it alerts everyone to the fact that you haven’t the slightest clue about social justice or solidarity.

Written By NatFantastic on September 24th, 2012 @ 2:41 pm
Josip Broz Tito

This is an absolute B.S.



Written By Josip Broz Tito on September 24th, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

Brendan O’Neill is dead. Long live Reuben Bard-Rosenberg! Cel’s comments spot on for me

Written By Aaron on September 24th, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
Zhou Enlai

“And how else are the police going to be shaken out of the mindset of ‘it’s us against those criminal squatters/protesters/etc’ if not by those same people showing support for those parts of the force that come out against the government’s cuts?”

With a guillotine

Written By Zhou Enlai on September 24th, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

The sheer vindictiveness and viciousness with which you leftist scrotes speak to each other defies belief. I’ve never been so glad that none of you get anywhere with anything, or are paid attention to.

Written By Perce on September 24th, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

Yeah, I’ve never really understood this part of left-wing activism. This article seems largely sensible, even if the tone’s a bit off.

There seem to be lots of people here claiming to speak for the ‘working class’, which I don’t pretend to be, but actual opinion polls (like one just published in the Guardian) do show strong support for the police across all social classes. Most of the people commenting, referencing the dismissals of rape complaints and such, don’t seem to want to abolish the police but rather seem to want better policing. Which I’m not sure how a smaller and worse-paid police force is going to accomplish. And the police are obliged to follow the law, so harassment of the homeless, squatters and abuse of stop-and-search would surely be more effectively and realistically ended by changing the law than getting rid of the police.

I’d submit that policemen aren’t any more likely to be racist or sexist than anybody else; the problem is with society, not the police. Again, the police are pretty good at covering up their abuses, but has anybody seen some of the stories of shocking cover-ups at NHS hospitals? Whatever the police deserve, so does everybody else. Maybe we should just all vote Conservative in self-flagellation.

Written By Nicholas on September 24th, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

This is fucking terrible. “In reality, the day to day work of most officers has less to do with policing dissent, and more to do with dealing with thuggery, robbery and domestic violence” haha, missed out the bit where they harrass the homeless, stop and search black kids for the crime of being on the street, deliberately and seemingly systematically mistreat rape and domestic violence victims and murder people, and get away with it.
How the fuck are these wankers in any way deserving of our solidarity?

Written By ActionDirecte7 on September 24th, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

Perce, don’t know what’s vindictive with calling *one* article ‘terrible’.

Nicholas, the people here don’t want better policing, they want a different society, one which doesn’t need the existence of a group who’s 24/7 consists of maintaining an exploitative socio-economic system. The way to tackle rape is to smash patriarchy, not to have better policing of it/more convictions (many rapes are totally unreported, for example).

Lots of people may support the police. So what, that doesn’t mean supporting the police is in their interest (lots of people voted for the Nazis – does this give them legitimacy?). The police help maintain an exploitative socio-economic system, which is bad for everyone (middle as well as working classes). With the working class people I’ve spoken to about the police, their only support for the police is inasmuch as the police will defend them from other working class people (violence, robbery). But working-class violence and theft is derivative of the fact they are the working class, the exploited group in a capitalist system. They only want the police in order to defend them from the negative aspects of capitalism – not realising the police actually enforce that exact capitalist system!

Whether policeman aren’t any more likely to be racist or sexist (which they are – if your job involves beating up black people most of the time, you will be more likely to be more racist than the average person) is irrelevant. Their existence helps maintain racism and sexism structurally, thus we should oppose it if we oppose racism and sexism in general.

The police face cuts to their living standards, yes. But these cuts are derivative of capitalism, which the police maintain as their job/existence. How can we have class/anti-cuts solidarity with a group of people which is part of the reason for the cuts, which enforces the system that creates the cuts? It also enforces the cuts – ie the brutal repression on anti-cuts demos. Like someone said, how can we have solidarity with the police when they attack anti-cuts protestors?

Written By Ollie on September 24th, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

This article may well be deeply flawed, but I have to say that some of the criticisms in the comments section are just as flawed if not worse.

Written By Padalac on September 25th, 2012 @ 8:58 am

Ollie: “Perce, don’t know what’s vindictive with calling *one* article ‘terrible’.”

I suggest you read through the comments again and read the surprisingly vicious and often personal remarks directed at the author for making the argument that he does. If you still think that you don’t see anything vindictive about the tone of any of them I would suspect you are being willfully ignorant.

“But working-class violence and theft is derivative of the fact they are the working class, the exploited group in a capitalist system.” – This bit seems weak to me; care to elaborate? I assume it’s what Reuben was getting at when he mentioned views on undesirable behaviour being due to alienation at the end of his article?

Written By AdamP on September 25th, 2012 @ 10:23 am

I agree Adam. That quote is exactly the kind of thing I’m referring to.

Written By Padalac on September 25th, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Ollie, true, I wouldn’t blame anyone who’s had lots of experience of being treated badly by the police for not having much sympathy for them. The crux of your argument though seems to be that the police are responsible for upholding capitalism. Well, actually they’re responsible for upholding the law. The law as it stands obviously supports capitalism, but that’s because we live in a capitalist society, and in this respect the police are no different from anybody else who spends 9-5 as a cog in the machine of the economic system to make a living. Though a future better society may have less crime, crime will still exist, there will still need to be law and there will still need to be people upholding it.

Written By Nicholas on September 25th, 2012 @ 3:32 pm
Bernard Hogan-Howes

Oh dear…

Written By Bernard Hogan-Howes on September 25th, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

It must be so liberating to be able to describe your political ambitions by saying ‘smash’ about things you don’t like. Let’s SMASH the exploitative system, SMASH patriarchy, SMASH cancer and SMASH poverty. If anyone suggests any kind of action we need to take prior to embarking on these projects, like maybe laying some kind of groundwork, we simply say ‘WHAT? NOT SMASH YET?’

For example ‘The best way to prevent rape is to smash patriarchy’. I’m sure that’s correct, but I’d still like to have a police force until the smashing has ensured that every vestige of patriarchy is in smithereens. I’d hate to smash the police before we’ve smashed all causes of crime.

Written By Roger on September 26th, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

I see no ‘vindictiveness’ (a desire for revenge) or even viciousness except in the posts from Hoxha/Stalin/etc (elements of trolling). Calling one thing someone has written ‘terrible’ (and equivalents) isn’t a personal attack in my opinion.

Most crime is derivative of a socio-economic system based off property. So theft (be it burglary or violent mugging), vandalism, fraud are obvious ones. Less direct, but still ultimately coming from capitalism, are domestic violence (women financially dependent on abusive husbands so can’t leave them, men beating their partners to feel power after the powerlessness they feel at work all day/in their lives in general), murder (to inherit someone’s money, because someone hasn’t paid someone back). Changing this system will reduce crime (or re-define the definition of it) dramatically. In terms of people upholding the (future) law, that would be done with mass participation – so the sexism or racism of the police stop being barriers to justice.

The police aren’t cogs in a capitalist machine like other workers. Other workers, can, in their work and workplace, struggle directly against capitalism/engage in class struggle. The police can’t do this, because their job is first and foremost defending the ruling class (against workers). How can they in any way struggle against capitalism when their day-to-day upholding capitalism’s laws. Also, as someone elsewhere said, the police aren’t engaging in class struggle at the moment: there are no attempts at independent unionising (nor will there be); there was only that one symbolic march.

Written By Ollie on October 1st, 2012 @ 3:47 pm
Owen C

My grandfather moved to London in the 1940s, found the anti Irish racism intolerable, then moved to the sticks and became a copper. I’ve no idea what he did exactly as a policeman, although I believe he done the bit of confiscating offensive weapons off people who intended to use them, checked around for potential thefts and also drove around really really fast. There were not any non white ethnic minorities to oppress, at least not ninety eight per cent of the time. This was before the miners strike, you see.
This is reasonably irrelevant to the current discussion on this thread, but is something I tend to bear in mind when thinking about how annoying cops are as a general principle. Having said that, I feel that southern English cops are a slightly different entity to the general principle of police work, and, yeah they are kind of daft uns tbh. If you are reading this, please don’t.

Signed A. Workingclassperson

Written By Owen C on October 4th, 2012 @ 2:32 am
John P Reid

josib brizo I recall campaigning for Labour in 87 when we were called a communist party, it was all communists are bast**ds in those days

P.S ,i’m not sure if the first two people calling themselves Mao and Stalin are being ironic poe law, not just becuase they had oppresive police to do their work, but becuase if they feel using such monickers would appeal to those who they’d like to hate the police ,then they’re way off.

Written By John P Reid on October 26th, 2012 @ 4:55 am

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