Cop this, Brown

Whoah, get this – secret police strikes! That’s strikes by the police in secret, not strikes by the secret police.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has lined up with the Home Office to impose a real-terms pay cut on rank and file police. The Police Arbitration Tribunal recommended a 2.5% pay rise, but as the UK government has a policy of public sector wage restraint, capping rises at 2%, the increase will not be backdated to September 1 which means the 2.5% is actually 1.9% when you factor in inflation.

This means that the police are in the same boat as the rest of the public sector. It’s either arrogance or stupidity that the government is picking a fight with the police

The secret wildcat action would hit community policing, paperwork, school visits, traffic duties and the issuing of parking tickets. Foot patrols in some areas could also be reduced.

Officers are threatening not to work on their days off or do compulsory overtime. They say they may suffer bouts of so-called “blue flu” and fail to turn up for work if they have even the slightest hint of illness.

It could lead to officers refusing to escort Gordon Brown and fellow Ministers to and from their destinations. Police are also currently working overtime to cope with prisoners housed in police cells under emergency Government measures to combat jail overcrowding.

Class conscious workers have traditionally been antipathetic, sometimes overtly oppposed, to the struggles of rank and file police officers. This is hardly suprising – the police are tasked with preventing working class militancy, as well as preventing criminal activity.

But we must not get locked into fixed ways of thinking about the real world, which is not fixed and cannot be interpreted and acted upon by the use of doctrine. Today police officers are just as affected by neoliberal reforms and wage restraint as other public sector workers, like nurses, teachers, civil servants, fire fighters, etc.

Police officers have become proletarianised. The introduction of Police Community Support Officers – variously dubbed “yellow-clad numpties” and “plastic policemen” – was intended to be a cheap method of increasing police numbers and erode the benefits that police officers have won over the years. This process has introduced police officers to unionised workers – around 50% of PCSOs are members of Unison, the largest public sector union.

This coupled with the glorious walkout by prison staff, an entirely unexpected display of militancy which had overwhelming public support, has taught rank and file police officers that in the current climate, it will not be enough to protest in the traditional fashion. A march on parliament will not worry a government already mired in scandal which is determined to make workers bear the brunt of the economic crisis.

As I said, we are all aware of the social conservatism of prison staff and police officers and the institutionalised racism of the police and prison system. But the ideas working people hold are challenged by their struggle to defend their wages and working conditions.

It is essential that both the Prison Officers Association and the Police Federation win the right to strike and become unions affiliated to the TUC – if any coppers are reading, I urge you to vote “yes” for the right to strike.

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