Policing the Proles
All coppers might be workers but their role is helping maintain capitalist law and order.
“Evening All”. That was the opening catchphrase of PC George Dixon the eponymous hero of the homely television series Dixon of Dock Green that ran from 1955-73. Crime was of the petty variety. The real crux of the show amounted to the perception of Dock Green “nick” as an extension of George’s cosy semi-detached. Each episode ended with a homily about being a good citizen, a dutiful salute and the final vigilant “Goodnight all”. Entertainment? Maybe. But the by-product amounted to a masterful PR campaign for the police force, one that nowadays they would swap their tasers for at the drop of riot shield.
The police force is barely a couple of hundred years old, but the Special Constabulary dates back to “Anglo Saxon times, when people policed themselves”. In 1673, King Charles II brought in an Act which deemed that “any citizen might be sworn in as a temporary peace-officer for a specific occasion, in particular when there was a threat of great disturbances”. Essentially the neighbourhood bobby had become politicised.
The existence of private property is why the police exist. As property devolved more and more in to the hands of the few, property owners began to fear for their property. Jeremy Bentham suggested a Ministry of Police, but an 1818 Parliamentary Committee saw it as “a plan which would make every servant of every house a spy on the actions of his master, and all classes of society spies on each other”(E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class). One year later 400 Special Constables joined a military presence of hundreds of armed men to confront a crowd of protestors seeking the reform of parliamentary representation at St Peters Fields, Manchester. Fifteen people were killed and 400-700 people were injured as the Cavalry charged with drawn sabres to disperse the crowd.
In 1829 Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force with 1000 constables. By 1857 all of the UK’s cities had formed their own police forces. Peel is said to have developed the “Peelian Principles” an ethical philosophy that supposedly underpins policing. At the forefront of the code is the principle: “The police are the public and the public are the police”. This could be interpreted as another meaningless slogan like the millionaire David Cameron’s jingle “we’re all in it together”. But the police are workers; just as much a part of the 99 percent as bank workers, dustman, nurses, bricklayers, miners, etc.
Discussing the Police Strike of 1919, the Socialist Standard pointed out 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”. And in addressing a point that is frequently made nowadays: “the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State” it commented, “The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection.” (Editorial, June 1919)
The state was busy subjugating workers in 1910 when: “Riotous scenes without parallel in a South Wales Coalfield were enacted last night in mid-Rhondda and at Aberaman. At both places, the police and the mob were in fierce conflict for many hours, charge after charge being made by the constabulary upon the crowd. In the mid-Rhondda alone over a hundred casualties were reported, injured strikers being conveyed to local surgeries for treatment.” (South Wales Daily News, 9 November 1910) The state was at it again in 1919 when the City of Glasgow Police repeatedly baton-charged workers who were campaigning for shorter working hours to alleviate unemployment. On “Bloody Friday” a mass meeting was to be held in George Square, but the state intervened, initially with the police. But by Friday night the police had been reinforced with the state’s military muscle when “10,000 troops armed with machine guns, tanks and a howitzer arrived”. Ruling class paranoia revealed itself when the decision was made that: “No Glaswegian troops were deployed, with the British government fearing that fellow Glaswegians, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers’ side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow” (Wikipedia).
The 1926 General Strike demonstrated how all pervading state power can be when profits are threatened. A warship was sent to Newcastle and 226,000 special policemen were recruited. Police baton-charged strikers in Hull, Preston, Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The government “seized all supplies of paper, which hindered publication of the TUC’s paper, “The British Worker”. The Catholic Church declared the strike “a sin”. And the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, declared the strike an attack on Britain’s democracy.
During the NUM strike of 1984-5 Margaret Thatcher speaking to Parliament said (as Stanley Baldwin before her did) that “giving in to the miners would be surrendering the rule of parliamentary democracy to the rule of the mob”; she referred to the striking miners as ‘the enemy within’. Demonising your opponents is a well-worn tactic of the ruling class, made considerably more effective when it is aided and abetted by a tame media. “By the time the strike was over the miners had experienced at first hand the way in which the coercive power of the state can be, and is, used in defence of ruling class interests. The police, the judiciary, criminal courts and civil courts, even the DHSS were all used against the striking miners” (SPGB, The Strike Weapon: Lessons of the Miners’ Strike. 1985).
The NUM strike of 1984 to 1985 was a watershed in the class war. The power of the unions was on the wane. And the “rolling back of the state” was underway. The ruling class was on the offensive in the defence of profits. The Selsdon Group of right-wing Tories was at the centre of the ideology dubbed Thatcherism. And Margaret Thatcher was its public image. Perhaps her speech in May 1988 to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland reveals the callousness of the ruling class when she proffered a biblical validation for her view on how capitalism should work. Quoting St Paul she said, “If a man will not work he shall not eat”. This ideology has driven state policy ever since and is peddled to workers as part of a divide-and-rule strategy.
The Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, revealed in her autobiography how “counter-subversion” tactics were employed against the striking miners. Seumas Milne’s book The Enemy within: Thatcher’s Secret War Against the Miners reveals a great deal more, including phone tapping, forged documents, informers, phoney bank deposits and the use of agents provocateurs. The use of agent provocateurs to infiltrate working class organisations is not new. Marx described how the state spy, Joseph Crémer, was expelled from the German Workers’ Educational Society in 1852.
Baton charges, and the panic created by charging mounted police has been reinforced by the methodical use of surveillance techniques and the controversial policy of kettling. It is no longer just the striking worker that has been looked upon as a threat to ruling class power—any group that might threaten profits is now judged to be the “enemy within”. The use of agent provocateurs is perhaps the most despised of all ploys used by the state. And the police are loath to be exposed as employing such tactics because it undermines their self-image as impartial. The reality though is very different.
In June 2008, in a letter to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, the then MP George Galloway accused the “Metropolitan Police of engaging in ‘a deliberate conspiracy to bring about scenes of violent disorder’ during President George W. Bush’s visit to the UK last week.”
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake who joined G20 protestors in London saw what he believed to be two plain-clothes police officers go through a police cordon after presenting their ID cards. “When I was in the middle of the crowd, two people came over to me and said, ‘There are people over there who we believe are policemen and who have been encouraging the crowd to throw things at the police’” (Observer 10 May 2009).
Mark Kennedy an undercover Metropolitan police officer was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary aired in October 2011. By his own admission he stated that he spent seven years infiltrating, befriending, and informing on peaceful environmental groups in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Iceland. He claimed that he “knew of fifteen other undercover police officers operating in protest groups during the last decade” (Ecologist 9 February 2011). A quote from the Channel 4 documentary by Michael Meacher, former Labour Environment Minister reveals the real motivation behind these police tactics “. . .behind it are corporate interests. . .who don’t want interference, and they don’t want public opinion aroused against a product that is extraordinarily profitable for them”. And who are these corporate interests? The Guardian reported on the 14 February 2011 that: “The energy giant E.ON, Britain’s second-biggest coal producer Scottish Resources Group and Scottish Power, one of the UK’s largest electricity-generators, have been paying for the services of a private security firm that has been secretly monitoring activists”.
The Occupy Movement has the potential to become a real threat to capitalism. Theirs isn’t simply a strikers or eco-protestors threat to profits. They can expect the state to employ all its powers and guile to discredit and destroy their nascent movement. New York Police Departments recent raid on the “People’s Library” at Zuccotti Park reveals how frightened our masters are of ideas. Police “confiscated approximately 4,000 books. . . 1,275 books of the 4,000 books seized had been recovered; of those, one-third was damaged to the point of being unusable. It’s estimated that 2,725 books had been destroyed “(Truth-out.org).
For too long now our class has been lied to, tricked, beaten, tortured and murdered by the ruling class through the agency of the state. It must end. It’s up to you to bring that about?