Police are to go on strike for the first time in 93 years in return for sacrificing their lucrative overtime payments and bonuses.
Police officers are to be balloted on strike action over 20% cuts to front line services, before the Police Federation’s annual conference in May. The Federation took similar action four years ago when it surveyed its members on whether they would like the Federation’s Executive Board to lobby parliament for the right to strike. Of the 60 000 responses 87% were in favour.
It is currently illegal for the police force to go on strike. The last time the police went on strike was in 1919 in a dispute over low pay and conditions. The Police Act (1919) was enacted in the aftermath of the police strikes in 1918 and 1919 which were called by the National Union of Police and Prison Officers. The Act made it illegal for the Police and Prison Officers to belong to or affiliating to a trade union as well as forbidding the officers from taking industrial action or discussing the possibility of strike action with colleagues. The Police Federation was established under the 1919 Act to deal with employment grievances and provide representation to police officers.
The eventual outcome of the strikes doubled the wages and improved the working conditions of both the police and the prison services. Since the 1918 and 1919 strikes the police service has enjoyed higher than national average wages, a final salary pension scheme and increased government’s awareness of the importance of the police for their own stability and protection from public disorder and have remained in a position of privilege ever since; as the protectors of the state.
Theresa May has consistently defended her cuts to the police budget by promising to protect the front line staff. However she has also stated that the police must also play their part in reducing the deficit.
In her review on police pay and practices May has said that; ‘We need radical solutions to improve policing. Nothing will be off-limits in this review. By bringing modern management practices to the police, this review will help ensure chief constables can deliver the front-line services people want, while providing the value for money that is so vital in the tough economic times we face.’
The first phase of the review to be implemented is the increase of the pensionable age from 51 to 55 and the cancellation of all over time.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘As the Home Secretary made clear everything is on the table within the context of the fact that the police cannot and will not be allowed to strike.’
In conversation with a Police Constable, in the middle of his public order training in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, I asked his opinion on the cuts to the police force and about whether he felt like ‘Robo Cop’ in his riot gear.
With enthusiasm he discussed all his padding, the extended length of is truncheon and agreed that he felt very safe in full riot gear. He went on to show me his rota for the month telling me that previously he would have worked a four-nights-on and four-nights-off pattern with the option of over time, but now he is required to work 11 hour night shifts for 7 days with 3 days off, once or twice a month. How is it possible for anybody to make an informed decision on levels of appropriate action towards the end of a 77 hour week?
So what should our attitude be towards this action by the police? Obviously there cannot be any support for police when they break up protests, kettle demonstrations and use violence and brutality against the citizens of this country. But when fractures are appearing between the state and their protectors it is in our interests to widen that divide. And while the police are engaged in a struggle similar to that in which many trade unionists are engaged we should point out to them that when they act in their traditional manner they are fighting against the very cause that they have now embraced.
Anita de Klerk is a lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy, Marxist activist and founder of the People's Flotilla Against Austerity.
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