THE Police Federation warned ministers on Thursday not to push officers into taking what would be their first national police strike in 88 years.
The confrontation was sparked by a leaked letter written by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to Chancellor Alistair Darling urging him to back her decision not to back-pay a police wage rise from September – effectively cutting the “rise” from 2.5 to 1.9 per cent.
This would be almost the lowest increase imposed on any emergency service or public-sector body in England and Wales, effectively docking police wages by £30.5 million.
Only prison officers, who, like the police, are barred from taking strike action, have received a comparably measly “award.”
The Police Federation (PF), which represents the 140,000 police officers in England and Wales, has warned a home affairs select committee that strike action might now be the only option.
It has been illegal for police officers to take industrial action since the strikes of 1919, but PF chairwoman Jan Berry said: “Push us any further and the last thing we want might just become our only option.”
Ms Berry described Ms Smith’s missive as “a cheap shot by a Home Office seeking to remedy their own mismanagement by penalising police officers.”
Adding grist to the PF mill, the Scottish nationalist government has announced that Scots officers are to receive the 2.5 per cent award in full.
Ms Berry reported that a growing number of officers want the right to strike and an emergency meeting of national and local PF leaders will meet in London next week.
Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton revealed that his union will be holding a meeting with the Yorkshire PF on Sunday and is planning to hold meetings with the Fire Brigades Union and the PF before Christmas.
“The main topic will be developing our ability to work together,” Mr Caton said.
“Like firefighters, we and the police should have the right to withdraw our labour,” he affirmed.
“There is a great deal of common purpose.”
Mr Caton stressed that the government “is too tightly bound up with commerce and capitalism.
“It says it all when the boss of Tesco is an official adviser to the government but ministers won’t listen to the brave men and women who lay down their lives for the good of society,” he stormed.
With this in mind, here’s yesterday’s Star editorial:
PREVIOUS right-wing governments, when imposing a pay freeze on public-sector workers, have often made exceptions for the police and judiciary.
The reasoning was, quite clearly, to ensure that the state’s forces of repression were on board in the event of the peasants revolting.
New Labour is either so confident of its omnipotence or so reckless in its adventurism that it feels no need to build links with any public servants.
It is par for the course that civil servants and NHS staff should be treated badly, with pay review board recommendations further eroded by the government by means of staging the award.
And to them can be added firefighters and prison officers who are not only given inadequate pay rises but are also treated as the enemy within – except when they are dealing with infernos or prison riots when they are promoted once again to heroes whose valour is second to none.
This is the position that the government has now carved out for the police who are being shown that there will be no favouritism for them.
It plans to do away with the Police Negotiating Board, which has operated effectively and fairly for decades, in order to set up pay review body.
The government gains twice with pay review bodies. First, it picks the bodies’ membership and sets the terms of reference, effectively forcing them to opt for modest improvements.
But, second and most outrageous, it adopts what has now become a routine attitude of claiming that modest recommendations are unaffordable and imposing a staged implementation.
This cuts the police award from a below-inflation 2.5 per cent to a belt-tightening 1.9 per cent, which is so despicable that it gives the appearance of a government looking for a row.
Police have been legally barred from striking since the end of the first world war when their trade union was crushed and replaced by the Police Federation.
But a legal ban on strikes is meaningless if working people feel so disgusted by their treatment that they defy the law and simply walk out.
Prison officers illustrated this reality recently when they reacted to government repression by refusing to go through ballot procedures – which the government simply met with an injunction – and walked out without notice.
In such circumstances, the government has to decide whether to let the situation go or take the consequences of picking up the big stick and sacking everyone who has gone on strike.
Closer co-operation between the Police Federation, Prison Officers Association and the Fire Brigades Union, to say nothing of other public-sector unions, offers new possibilities of defending workers’ rights.
As POA leader Brian Caton noted, this government is “too tightly tied up with commerce and capitalism.”
If the government ignores the vital interests of working people while championing the cause of private profit, as it is doing consistently, it cannot complain when workers resist and take action in their own defence.