From The Weekly Worker – Cracks in state apparatus:
… back in the annals of history, there are the police strikes that let to their illegalisation in 1918-19. The first – on August 29 1918 – led Lloyd George to remark, years later, that “the country was nearer to Bolshevism that day than at any time since”.
His worry was not without justification. At the end of the day, police repression is a key tool in the armoury of the ruling class against proletarian resistance. Imagine the impact a large-scale police strike would have had on the outcome of the 1984-85 miners’ Great Strike. Thatcher and her goons were certainly not unaware of that potential disaster – police squads were routinely deployed to pickets far from their regular beats, to minimise the possibility of desertion in that near-paramilitary situation…
The class position of the police is contradictory. On the one hand, they are salaried employees, with bosses and bureaucrats breathing down their necks like the rest of us. While the pay is, by public sector standards, relatively good, hours are long and unpredictable – and the work sometimes difficult and dangerous.
On the other hand, there is no getting away from what that work actually consists of – imposing the will of the state on an often recalcitrant population. Even when they are not kettling children, the police are generally used as a rough instrument to maintain order in a decaying social formation. The conditions are just right for reactionary ideology to flower, and to keep even the most put upon rank-and-file copper from organising in unity with the workers’ movement, apart from in exceptional circumstances…
It was not always thus. In the tumult of 1918 and 1919, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (Nuppo) outdid many of its fellow unions in revolutionary rhetoric. It affiliated to the TUC and Labour Party, and trades councils across the country, and, most ominously for the British state, it pledged to refuse to put down strikes and repress labour struggles. They were, of course, heady times – in the wake both of the Russian Revolution and World War I. Yet it has to be said that the state brought it on itself to a large degree – police wages at the time compared unfavourably to that of unskilled labourers.
We are not in a generalised revolutionary situation just now, obviously enough… The moment is perhaps upon us where cracks in the state apparatus can be prised further apart – if not to the point of open and generalised mutiny, at least to the point where the police are not so keen to view the workers’ movement as enemies.
- Police Unrest, Unionization and the 1919 Strike in Liverpool
Author(s): Ron Bean
Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 633-653
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/260502
- The ‘Spirit of Petrograd’? The 1918 and 1919 Police Strikes, Owen Jones, What Next? Journal (via Internet Archive):