Sunday, 13 July 2008

A Brief Look at the Origins and History of Police Unionism in Britain – Pt2

by the way this is sort of a part two to this article It takes up where the first one left of with the destruction of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers after the police strikes of 1918-19.

The Police Federation as it was established and still exists today is a vehicle for suppressing police militancy. Constables, who are the lowest rank in the police, were the most militant section of the police both before and during the strike. Thus the new representative structures that the Federation embodied minimised their role. This was done by splitting the structure by rank with constables, sergeants and inspectors each electing their own representatives, where each rank made up a third each of a joint negotiating body. Given that there are many more constables than sergeants, and many more sergeants than inspectors, this was a deliberate weighting to suppress the more militant ranks.
Needless to say, industrial action was banned, as was affiliation or association with outside bodies. Although all policemen were automatically members, the Federation was not allowed to collect funds from them and had to rely on a tiny grant from the Home Office. And after organising a public meeting on proposed pay cuts in 1931 – the Federation was banned from organising these. In the end – worsening conditions as a result of the second world war led to many leaving the force prompting some changes to the Federation.
These changes removed some of the most restrictive elements that had plagued the Federation, but not the substance of what the Federation represented. It was allowed to collect funds, and was able to play some kind of role in pay negotiations, able to dispute pay awards and force the government into arbitration of these. It was still merely a shadow of what NUPPO had been.
It was with this organisation that the police fought their last major battle with the government over pay before now during the 1970’s. It began with the negotiations over pay in 1970, with something as minor as writing letters to MP’s but motions that would have granted the federation the powers of a union, including industrial action were debated at the Federation’s conference.
However, the situation changed with the election of a Conservative government who increased the award offered to the police (although not for almost a year!), as a part of preparations for attempting to break the unions. On the other hand, Labour had been constrained by the need to appear fair across all pay increases (similarly to today) so as not to anger workers in TUC affiliated unions.
This was again the case in 1975 in the first pay negotiations after the return of Labour to government. The government was again imposing pay restraint as was determined not to make the police a ‘special case’, however, a rising tide of industrial militancy saw cracks appearing elsewhere. Thus 1977 Federation conference saw as delegates voting for the right to strike as a result of continuingly worsening pay deals. However, at the same time they also rejected TUC affiliation. In the end the promise of a pay review, which when implemented by the Tories gave a guaranteed increases in line with inflation, led to talk about the need for union powers being dropped.


Highlander said...

It was clever thinking to split the Police Fed into three representative bodies thereby undermining the most militant rank (ie. the constable). I still had trouble mustering any kind of sympathy for them - the Police -when it came to their recent pay dispute however. Can there ever be such a thing as a Socialist Police Officer?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

yes, i definitely think there can be a socialist police officer. some of the people in my branch did a stall where they were chatting with someone about how far right the labour party's gone and how we need a new party and it wasn't until he mentioned he was a police officer that they knew.

The problem is winning a sizeable portion of the police over to supporting the labour movement. In the 1918-19 strikes this happened, the police refused to help strike break and NUPPO was led by socialists. I suppose it's difficult to see that especially if you're on the receiving end of the repression of a demo etc. But the potential is there, the elements of a class consciousness need strengthening and sharpening.

For me it is the same position i'd essentially take with any union - you support the positive actions whilst being critical of anything negative they did (ie. you wouldn't support the arguement for keeping the death penalty which the police federation did around the time of it's abolition etc.)