Thursday, 10 March 2011

A response to Owen Jones on marching with the police

On his blog, Owen Jones asks the question "would you march with the police?" I've already dealt with this question in full and explained why the police will not be getting my solidarity. However, there are some things raised in Jones's post that I do want to address.

He begins by offering more than a few reasons for why many activists will be inclined to take my position. Though, whilst citing numerous specific flashpoints, he fails to follow this through to the conclusion that the police are "ruthlessly partisan" as an institution. Instead, this is just how they have "frequently acted" and despite this there is still a suggestion that they are "supposed to serve society and protect civilians without prejudice."

Hence when he cites his own undergraduate thesis on the police revolt of 1918/19. This informs his belief that we can "win over the police rank-and-file."

During that time, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) affiliated to the Labour Party and the TUC*. Its president declared that "the days when the Government can use the police forces as a tool against any other section of the nation is past." People such as Sylvia Pankhurst were "ecstatic," declaring that we had summoned "the spirit of Petrograd."

But, of course, it wasn't to be. As ruthlessly as they clamped down during Liverpool's Bloody Sunday back in 1911 before the revolt, it was more than matched after it with the Miners' Strike, the Poll Tax Riots, the G20, and the student protests. Not to mention the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes or their enthusiastic use of draconian anti-terror legislation. As Jones points out, "the Government imposed the Police Federation" and banned NUPPO, and "the state would learn from its mistake and make sure that the police were paid properly."

Thus, the self-interest that led the police to side with the trade unions was quelled. Even as they talk of marching against the cuts that they face, chants of "it's your jobs going too" don't stay their hands when they swing their batons at the wider anti-cuts movement.

This is not to say that every single person who wears a police uniform today, or that we can never win over the rank-and-file of the police. Far from it. As the actions of police in Wisconsin shows, those who serve the state could yet realise that with their uniforms off they are part of the same class that is under attack and refuse to quell its self-defence. But this will not happen just because we join or support their march - they will, after all, be marching to defend the same institution that exists to contain and suppress dissent simply because they rely on it for employment. This is not the same as realising the value of class solidarity.

As I said in reference to Wisconsin, we cannot win the apparatus of the state to our side. Those police who do join us will necessarily have to surrender their role as enforcers of the law. We should not be asking for the "sympathy of police officers," as Jones insists, but "encouraging mutiny in state ranks and asking those in uniform to remember where they come from."