Back in June, I wrote an article titled ‘A lesson for police and public from the 1919 Liverpool police strike‘, which was quite widely read by both police officers/workers and those who aren’t. The article ran through events back in 1919 and subsequently, and how these show how the government fears its weakness if police and public are on the same side of an issue and has historically always worked hard to keep the police happy and on-side with its policies and actions.
I also looked at how the current government, in its ideological eagerness to roll back the state and make funds and opportunities available to its private backers, had broken this historic compact by targeting the police for cutbacks and privatisation – thus shortsightedly and perhaps without realising it exposing itself to the possibility of the police and public being on the same side of the issue in the current, unnecessary and damaging austerity climate. The public has generally been supportive of the police in their objections to the Winsor reforms, and rightly so.
I closed the post with the following plea:
“And if you’re a police officer, then my appeal to you is this: remember the support you’re receiving from people now that in the future the government might be asking you to kettle, arrest or otherwise clamp down on. Don’t forget the way the Conservatives are treating you now, even if they throw you a bone or two at some point to try to get you onside. Don’t let them take you for granted, and don’t go one millimetre beyond your statutory obligations in how you treat protesters and strikers.
Governments who plan ill for our country for the benefit of their own small clique of ‘elite’ friends and backers fear one thing more than anything – that we stand united against them. And if ‘we’ includes the police, they’ll be shaking in their boots and can be stopped in their tracks. The lesson of Liverpool 1919 is just that, really.”
Such an ‘in the future’ situation is going to take place on 20 October as the TUC and its supporters (including me) stage the ‘A Future that Works’ march in London. I’m not – and I think the vast majority of the people who will be participating in the march won’t be either – small-minded enough to think tthat events under Thatcher in the 80s, or a few rogue officers like Simon Harwood, should taint our attitude toward the police or lessen our respect for them.
However, the wider handling of protests in recent times, with frequent kettling and some excessively harsh treatment of protestors haven’t reflected well on our police, nor filled people with the optimism and confidence that should really be a given.
On the (much) brighter side, I marched with NHS supporters in Hull last weekend, and the police were marvellous – friendly, smiling, helpful and patient – and it was wonderful.
I’m therefore going to close this article with another plea to our police brothers and sisters:
On 20 October in London, we’re going to be marching – not just for our own rights and interests but because the Tories are inducing a general collapse in our country as they undermine, sack and burn structures, benefits and protections that have been painstakingly built up over a lifetime.
The vast majority of the people marching will be people who support you and many will have spoken out in support of your complaints and protests against Winsor and a government that wants your obedience but doesn’t value you. Andrew Mitchell may be the only one to let it slip out, but without question his outburst merely typifies the attitude of the Tories, who may consider you useful but look down on you as much as on the rest of us.
This march – and other marches and actions that might follow it – represents an opportunity for you and for us. An opportunity to show that their Tories’ worst nightmare can happen: police and public on the same side, in unity and ready to support each other. Such a reality will turn their bowels to water and can stall their actions so that the damage they do before they are voted into oblivion is minimised.
Please don’t miss the opportunity. Don’t let the Tories take you for granted, and don’t go one millimetre beyond your statutory obligations in how you treat protesters and strikers. Remember the support you’ve received from us, and show the same solidarity in return – it’s the least we deserve, and it’s in your own best interests too.
See you there – I’ll be wearing a smile for you, and I hope you’ll be smiling back!