Saturday, 15 January 2011

Why the police will not be getting my solidarity

On Tuesday Paul McKeever, the Police Federation chairman, told MPs that he couldn't rule out the possibility of the police marching against cuts. The Metropolitan Police are facing 20,000 job losses over the next four years. The question is, especially given recent events, how do we respond to this?

Already, on Liberal Conspiracy, Steve Sumpter has written that "those of us in the anti-cuts movement should be protesting alongside them." His reasoning is that although there are "the few nasty police," who "we want out," at the moment "our fight is elsewhere." The police who will take place in any march "are ordinary people with families and rents and mortgages," and we should "do for them what they wouldn’t do for us."

My train of thought goes off in a somewhat different direction.

Unlike Sumpter, I don't see the behaviour of the police as an abberation. The fact that they are more aggressive in handling protests now, and are actively seeking to clamp down on dissenters by releasing footage and seeking "suspects," is not just something that happened. You can see it every time there is a serious threat to the established order, from events like Bloody Sunday back in 1911, through the Miners' Strike and the Poll Tax Riots, to the G20 and, of course, the recent student protests.

In between, there are a myriad of other incidents, such as the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. Not to mention the Forward Intelligence Teams, DNA databases, arresting people simply to be able to take their details, and other "illiberal" tactics Sumpter cites.

Fair-minded people are against “disproportionate”, “provocative”, or “brutal” policing; and presumably in favour of a polite push and shove.  This is an appealing message (and it may make sense to accentuate it to the cameras), but is more or less a fiction.  Of course, there are incidents here and there where we can say that particular police could have been less brutal.  But if the direct action we defend has any content at all, it must mean we supported, and support, concrete attempts to stop the law being passed, up to, including, and beyond the invasion of parliament – and we are in support of people trying as hard as possible to do that. And it is a fiction that the police could have tolerated that, or that preventing it could ever have been done gently.  If it could have been, we wouldn’t have really been trying.  If the police hadn’t been at parliament square last night, and if they hadn’t been prepared to act brutally, parliament would have been stormed, and legislation to triple top-up fees and abolish EMA would not have been passed. The brutality of the police is not incidental to the nature of the state, it is essential to it.

So you have to pick: the state, and horse charges against children who object to having their pockets robbed; or against the state (which means: against capitalism, for social revolution); and against the police too; brutal or otherwise.   Polite fudges are polite – but more or less part of the continuous stream of liquid nonsense which constitutes the news media.
This is not a matter of a "few nasty police." If we support a march by the police against cuts to their numbers and their services, then we actively support the institution of the police. That cannot mean anything except the state's monopoly of violence and the cracked skulls of working class activists.

Tony Rayner, chair of the Essex Police Federation, responded to Paul McKeever's statement by calling him a "diplomat" and saying "we'll do more than march." But this is the same Tony Rayner who said, of Edward Woollard's draconian conviction, "pity he couldn’t be flogged as well as jailed." Not what you'd call an advocate of the society where workers are free of state repression.

As The Third Estate points out, he also "tweeted a link to a blog post by a freelance photographer." This post infers that "student protest require the ‘minimal force’ of  batons and kettling but police protests do not, and police violence is OK if you’re getting paid to be there and take photos."

Which, if it genuinely were a case of the nasty few, would put that same few amongst the number marching against cuts to the force. Hardly a basis for solidarity or unity there.

Yes, the police are working class. They have to sell their labour for a living in order to feed their families. But nobody made them choose, or stay, in a job which exists to subjugate the same class that they come from - to smash picket lines, choke off dissent, and maintain the dominance of the ruling class.

Today, anecdotally, I was told of a police officer who refused to attack picket lines - and was shuffled around the country until he ended up the constable of a quiet and inoffensive area. He is no doubt not the only one. So, if police can be persuaded to side with the workers and against capitalism, then it is clearly a choice that sees their career either go down the toilet or end altogether. Those still on active service, in the big cities, and marching to preserve their jobs, will be those with no qualms being on the other side of the class war.

Thus, I still have no sympathy for the devil. I maintain that "working class solidarity should not be reserved for those who exist to smash it."