Wednesday 12 December 2007

One Strike I Would Never Support

I'm with George Orwell on this one. Orwell remarked in Homage to Catalonia, "when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on."

Over the last ten years, British police officers have received the equivalent of a 39% increase in their pay. Whatever they have wanted - new equipment, new more draconian laws, a practical veto over criminal justice policy - they have been given. And now it isn't getting its own way, the Police Federation, perhaps one of the most reactionary organisations in the country, is threatening to try and overturn the ban on strike action by police officers.

But were it not for the ban on strike action that followed the Police Strikes of 1918 and 1919, the Police Federation wouldn't even exist. It was set up as what was effectively a 'company union' in direct response to the emergence of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, which started to campaign for better pay (which was poor and inconsistent) at a time of international labour militancy. The police union was outlawed and the Federation has enjoyed its special status ever since.

The last time the Federation tried to rattle the government with the threat of overturning the strike ban was over potential criminal charges for firearms officers - yet another claim for special treatment and immunity from prosecution.

There may be some on the Left who believe that any strike action should be supported (witness the support from Respect for the thugs in the Prison Officers Association), but this is just sabre-rattling by a bosses' union. The Federation knows that overturning the ban would mean the end of its monopoly as the representative body for the lower ranks.

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