I was astounded to learn that British police do not have their own union. I never knew this. This right was removed in 1919 with the Police Act. In fact Police strikes at the time were used by the state to teach the police a harsh lesson. If you strike then you will be sacked. You will lose all your rights and be blacklisted (some of these rights are possibly upheld these days by the Police Federation, including proper pay levels). Michael Portillo just broadcast an extraordinary program on BBC Radio 4. I certainly don’t agree with everything he does, but this was just brilliant.
We remember their role [the Police Force] in upholding law and order following the 1926 General Strike. Ever since, the police have been a thin blue line between the workers and the state. But British bobbies did not always stand apart from the trade union movement. Less than a decade earlier, the police went on strike over pay and conditions, with severe consequences. In Liverpool, warships and tanks accompanied troops on the streets to quell riots and looting.
So have some compassion for your local Police officer. They cannot strike, however mistreated they are. And I would suggest that they are being mistreated in some ways. Look at the position they are in. They are put in harms way by a state with many problems of it’s own (and, yes, still upholding many democratic rights for some people). They are asked to Police citizens often in situations where large protests are going on. But their right to stand up for their rights has been banned. No union. If they don’t do what the state says then they risk being sacked … with no proper union to uphold their rights. So where does that leave them ? Painted into a corner ? A corner where they are forced to use increasingly coercive tactics against protesters. They have to because they can’t use the right that all other workers have to resort to – a union and a strike.
There is an absurd amount of fear here about the role the police have … and absurd assumptions about what citizens will do when they are not policed. It’s absurd fear mongering about a “police that stand between peace and total chaos”. Although the police are clearly important there is the usual total lack of faith in ordinary citizens. What really happens in “total chaos” has been shown in Rebecca Solnits book “A Paradise Made in Hell”.
Her research showed that far from a downward spiral into total chaos, in a disaster people always organise to help one another. There is often a minority that cause trouble but that is mitigated by the general trend of organisation by most people. In fact Solnit showed that it is in fact these toxic assumptions by the state that can actually cause “total chaos” as the state thrashes around in a disaster. The state can become afraid of the very people they are supposed to represent and actually CAUSE the “total chaos” that they posit comes from the people. This happened in Katrina in New Orleans for example where an absurd policy of “containment” led to the most awful abuses and mistreatment of many. Obscenely this is then cited by the state as “proof” of the way society spirals in “total chaos”. This is then used to create the situation with the police that we see in Britain where they are stripped of the rights they should have because they are seen as some “thin blue line” between a civilised and an uncivilised society.
In the times we live in maybe we all need to have more faith in ourselves. We need to know that we all have the power to sort out problems and to protect ourselves. The police will always be there to help but maybe we put too much pressure on them to do everything. After all they are simply another workforce like plumbers or engineers. The police should be part of society.