British police seeking the right to strike – a sign of the times

As part of its austerity programme the Tory-LibDem coalition is planning to cut police officers’ wages and making it easier to sack them. There are to be wage cuts, job losses and more stringent requirements to enter the police force. The starting salary would be £19,000, down from the current £23,500. Those on “restricted duties” for more than a year could lose 8 per cent of their salary and after two years would be asked to take “ill-health retirement”. Anyone refusing to “retire” or take staff jobs would be subject to dismissal, i.e. the sack! There is also the proposal to raise the age of retirement to 60 from the present 55.

The government seems to have forgotten that in the coming period of growing class conflict they will need the services of the police in combating the growing militancy which is emerging among British workers. Or maybe this government thinks the workers are just going to take it without a fight. Or possibly, they believe they can count on the trade union leaders to hold them back indefinitely. Whatever the reasoning is, they are clearly confident that they can attack police working conditions and wages and still have a “loyal” force. That or they are simply dumb!

The more serious and long-sighted strategists of British capital, however, will be concerned at the growing demand among ordinary police officers to be given back their right to strike. On March 16 an e-petition was launched precisely on this question. In the time it has taken to write this brief note for our Blog over 80 new signatures have been added to the petition, now standing at a total of 5607! [Friday, March 23, 15:59 hours]. On March 21, two days ago, the signatures were 2700. The petition is to remain open for a year. If it gets 100,000 signatures it can be debated in parliament. The introduction to the petition states: “The government should recognise this human right and repeal legislation forbidding the creation of Police Unions and this right.” One comment on policeoracle.com reads: “If this [the above mentioned proposals] does come into play and I can be made redundant does this mean we become employees and can strike? Can I get the same rights as everyone else?”

The Police Federation of England and Wales, the nearest thing to an actual police trade union, is planning to hold a national ballot asking rank-and-file officers whether they want full industrial rights, i.e. the right to strike. The Federation has also announced that it is going to hold an “event” in London to underline this “unprecedented attack on policing by this government”. The Federation is calling on the Home Secretary Theresa May to reject Part Two of the Winsor report, while all the necessary information on the right to strike is to be circulated to its 135,000 members.

In 1918 and 1919 there were police strikes in Britain [see The ‘Spirit of Petrograd’? The 1918 and 1919 Police Strikes in Britain] which saw 12,000 furious Metropolitan constables marching on Whitehall. It was after that experience that the British government pushed the Police Act 1919 through parliament, which established the Police Federation of England and Wales and barred police from belonging to a trade union. Almost a century later police officers are demanding the right to strike be given back to them. Already on January 23, 2008, thousands of police marched through London protesting about wages and conditions [See Britain: Bolshevik Bobbies].

Next time you are on a demonstration peacefully protesting about student fees, pensions, wages and job cuts you can point all the above out to the police officers on duty!