Saturday, 2 April 2011

A conversation with a copper

Earlier on, I attended this;
Today, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation joined members of Liverpool Uncut who had organised an occupation of BBC Radio Merseyside.

The occupation took place at 2.30pm, when over a dozen people entered the building and announced that they were staging a sit-in. The protesters announced that they were protesting against “the appalling coverage” of UK Uncut actions in London on March 26th and would show “how civilised the UK Uncut occupations are by having a lovely tea party.”

Whilst the occupiers sat down to eat cakes and drink tea and coffee, a contingent of 8 police officers arrived. They could do little more than stand around, awkwardly. When asking who was in charge, replies of “we all are” and “we operate on consensus” were met with blank looks.

A member of Liverpool SolFed said, “on March 26th, UK Uncut felt the blunt end of state repression. Together with the roaming blockade formed by the Radical Workers’ Bloc, they caused significant economic damage. Attacking the economy and making the country ungovernable, is the only way to defeat austerity. That 138 of the 141 arrested were UK Uncut activists only underlines that.

“We don’t think that you can ‘win the argument’ with the state or bankers, as they do. But we recognise the value of their tactics in inflicting exactly the kind of economic damage that we advocate.”

Members of Liverpool SolFed were amongst those who signed a letter to UK Uncut which stated that “the whole idea of dividing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression” and “those of us fighting the cuts are all in this together.”

This is not the first time that Liverpool SolFed have engaged in practical solidarity at Radio Merseyside. Previously, members had joined the NUJ picket lines in support of the staff pensions dispute.
A video of the event, and an interview with a UK Uncut activist at the occupation, can be seen here.
As a whole, the event passed without incident. It was peaceful and good humoured. Perhaps the only exception to this was the woman who, upon seeing us enter, loudly declared "call the police now!" She then spent the rest of the occupation maintaining a safe distance from the unruly thugs who were drinking tea, laughing and joking with abandon.

During the time we were there, one of the UK Uncutters - wielding a megaphone - urged the police in attendance to join us and support the demonstration. After all, they were also facing cuts. This elicited huge cheers from the crowd.

Now, I have already made my position on the police quite clear. As an institution, they cannot be reasoned with or bargained with. If we want the police on our side, it must be as individuals through mutiny in the ranks, as we cannot be under any illusion that the organisation which employs them will ever serve anything other than the state's monopoly of violence. See here and here for a fuller explanation.

This saw one female police officer respond that "we're not allowed to protest." A SolFed comrade asked about the plans to march in the near future and she replied that they were no more allowed to march than to strike. To which my response was "well, who will enforce it?"

She nodded, as if in admission, before adding, "but it would be on our heads if anybody got hurt."

"Well," I replied, "the police were out in force last Saturday - not on strike - and lots of people got hurt. By the police, in fact."

This response led another officer to ask if I had been in London on that day. When I told him I had, he asked me what I thought of it. Did I think the violence detracted from the message of the protest? I said no, explaining that I hadn't seen any violence by protesters and that the media coverage had been utterly misleading. Which was, after all, why we were here.

The officer was, as far as I could tell, trying very carefully not to nod or display any sign of agreement. He went on to state that smashing windows and violence doesn't really achieve anything. What was the point?

That one was easy. "The point isn't to throw some paint bombs. Bear in mind, the suffragettes smashed windows. Apartheid was defeated by people who used bombs. In 1911, this city brought the country the closest it's ever been to a revolution. There were gunboats in the Mersey, and the regiments from Liverpool were confined to barracks because the army couldn't trust their loyalty. This wasn't peaceful protest, it was the working class using its power to fight the interests of the ruling class."

There was a brief pause. More not-nodding. "What's your opinion," I asked, turning the tables, "on the police in London last Saturday? Where they told the UK Uncut people occupying Fortnum and Mason that they would be free to leave, but kettled, beat, and arrested them?"

A hint of a smile reached his eyes. "You know I couldn't possibly comment on that."

Fair enough. I shrugged. You have to ask - a point which he conceded.

"So," I said, "am I to take it that if you were off duty you might be nodding more and agreeing more with what I'm saying?"

The answer, "you'd have to ask me when I was out of uniform." Again, the hint of a smile in his eyes even as he maintained his poker face.

If there's a lesson to be taken from that exchanged, I'd say it's this; there remains no reason why we should trust the police. As a force, an institution, they exist to brutalise us. But if our aim is to encourage mutiny in the ranks, to diminish the number laying siege to our marches, our occupations, and our picket lines, we should know that it may not be as impossible as you might think.