The last time the police went on strike
What we said in 1919 about the police unrest and strikes of that time. Ironically today’s demonstrations are organised by the Police Federation, the company union set up in 1919 to stop a real union being organised.
So, the bobbies have funked it. We are not, for the present, at all events, to be treated to the comic spectacle of strike processions of bluebottles being shepherded through the streets by their own blacklegs, the “specials.” The world has lost an entertainment.
Of course, we are not blind to the difficulties of the policemen’s situation. Their bosses had got the strangle-hold on them. By the simple expedient of stopping sixpence in the pound of their wages, confiscating their fees for the service of summons, and in other dubious ways, the capitalists provide a pensions fund at poor Looby’s expense. The loss of this pension, together with the “sack,” is the first threat the bosses hold over the bobbies’ heads. Bobby is a man with no other trade in his hands in the vast majority of cases. So the threat of losing a regular job has special terrors for him. In addition, the loss of his pension—a pension designed, as most pensions are, to get a disciplinary grip upon the subject which probably no other expedient possible in a “free country” could afford, is a prospect requiring a quite uncommon type of mind to withstand.
The bosses, of course, played the game for all it was worth. They said they were flooded with applications from soldiers and ex-soldiers to take the policemen’s jobs. They also talked loudly but vaguely about the arrangements that were being made to meet Buttons’ grievances. It was the old game of bribe some and threaten others—the game played from the beginning to the end of the recruiting for the war—the game played to kill the demobilisation trouble after the Armistice. As, in the earlier case, the single and the young were promised jobs and preferment if they enlisted, and the married and the older ones were threatened that they would have to go if they did shove the others in; as, later, the older men were promised early demobilisation if they kept quiet, and detention till the last if they did not, while the younger men were soothed with extra money, so the older policemen were threatened more particularly with the loss of all that was so nearly won, while the younger men were soothed with promised improvements in the longer road before them.
Meanwhile the policemen played their cards just about as badly as they could. They have climbed down under threats—than which hardly anything could more completely have exposed their weakness and fear. Added to this they have climbed down before their bosses had committed themselves to the vaguely talked-of concessions, and in face of this confession of funk and weakness those concessions are going to shrivel up considerably. The bosses have found out all they wanted to know—that the reward they are offering their bulldogs is sufficient to secure their allegiance to their odious duties. If they dare not decline those duties for themselves they can never dare to decline to perform them for others. So, when labour troubles come Bobby will not, the masters are assured, be a trade unionist, and they have secured this, thanks to their cunning, at about the lowest possible price.
The Daily Chronicle in its issue of June 2 tries to point out to the policemen why the Government can never recognise the Police Union, and, as usual, it reveals only half the truth. “The police exist,” our contemporary says, “to support the State. That is what they are for. . . They cannot strike and agitate, or even become public politicians, without ceasing to be policemen.” Which is true enough as far as it goes, but does not dispose of the not unimportant fact that the policeman is so essentially a member of the exploited class that he cannot get his admitted grievances redressed until he threatens to cease to be a policeman.
The more important matter, however, is the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State. The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection. Directly this position is realised it becomes obvious how far the police are from getting recognition for any police union that could possibly link them with the unions of the industrial world. The position of police force affiliated with the industrial trade unions would indeed be a tragic one in a time of strife. This the bosses have sense enough to perceive, if the underlings have not. And it is for this reason rather than that they are afraid of being dictated to by the men that the Government will never recognise the Police Union.
It was probably a lie that the police authorities are inundated with blackleg applications from soldiers, but the capitalists have a deep pocket, and, as long as their control of the instrument of the State lasts will have no serious difficulty in obtaining men who will carry out their behests. It is simply a question of the price.
The only thing that can deliver the policeman—as the rest of us— from the tyranny of his tormentors is for the working class to assume control of the State, and to use its forces, including the police, to abolish capitalism and establish the Socialist Commonwealth.
(editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1919)
The police v. the police
The capitalist Press has been busy explaining to Simple Simon that the action of the police in “breaking their oath” is not only mutiny, but “a crime.” Of course, it is always a crime when the bulldog turns and rends its master’s hand, notwithstanding that that hand was doing things with a stick. But there is another side to the question.
During the long period when the workers were more somnolent than they are now, and that condition was reflected in a far more incomplete organisation and a far greater trust in and submission to their union officials, the bosses were not so much afraid of the “labour unrest” as they are to-day. Consequently they did not attach the same importance to the bobby as they do now, and they made the mistake of paying him accordingly.
The result was inevitable. Notwithstanding his oath, the policeman was forced to struggle for a betterment of his miserable condition. More even than in other trades—if that were possible—this necessarily meant organisation. A union was formed, and as the aspect of industrial affairs became darker, a police trade union, affiliated possibly with other trade unions, deriving a certain amount of its strength from those unions, was regarded as an extremely sinister thing.
The bosses got a bit nervous. They made panic concessions, and then they started to cut out the “cancer”—in other words, to smash the union.
Now it is quite clear that the men owed every jot and tittle of the improvement in their condition to the union. Their oath availed them nothing. It was only intended to bind them to vile conditions of pay and tyrannical discipline. They might have stood meekly by it till doomsday, nothing would have been done for them. Only when they seriously threatened to commit the “crime” of leaving their oath to look after itself, as butcher Asquith did his registration and other pledges, and Lloyd George did his pledge concerning sending young boys to the “front,” did the masters deign to give them some measure of alleviation.
It is quite plain, then, where the crime comes in. It is certainly not in breaking their oath, which they had been driven to do by the callous indifference of the bosses to their claims, but in their desertion of the instrument which had gained them so much. To allow that to be crushed out, and those who had undertaken the task of organising them for the struggle, to go down in the hour of victory is both a mean and cowardly crime.
Writers in this paper have previously pointed out how extremely unlikely it was that any sort of union that could be any good to the men would secure official recognition. The forecast seems to be pretty correct. Had the police, however, behaved with sufficient courage and intelligence as to force the question of recognition to a successful issue, the simple and inevitable result must have been the increased use of bayonets instead of batons in industrial disputes. The masters have more strings than one to their bow.
A. E. J.
(Socialist Standard, August 1919).