Sunday, December 16, 2007

The New Triple Alliance

Once, it was coal, steel and rail. Now, this is the front page story in today's Morning Star:

Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton lent his support to the Police Federation, saying: “We’ve never altered our view that the actions of the government in 1918 were wrong,” in reference to the run-up to the 1919 strike ban.

“We support the right of the police to withdraw their labour, as those in Europe have, but there should never be the need for them to do so,” Mr Caton pointed out. “The Police Federation is absolutely fed up with this government.”

Mr Caton revealed that the POA, Police Federation and Fire Brigades Union would hold tripartite talks in early January to decide a unified response to government attacks on their members’ rights and jobs.

“The government’s so-called modernisation programme is of common interest to the Police Federation, POA and FBU,” he said.

“It is deskilling and cheapening the high standards of public service in this country.

“It says a lot about the new Labour experiment. From the top to the bottom of the Cabinet, they have forgotten the Labour principles of public services.

“If a triple alliance is what is needed, that is what we’ll have.”

And this is the editorial inside:

Trade unionists who have been at the receiving end of police violence on their picket lines may be indifferent or even hostile to Police Federation complaints of poor treatment by the government.

For those such as printworkers or miners who suffered particularly at the hands, horses and clubs of what were dubbed “Thatcher’s bootboys,” such hostility is understandable, but it is still wrong.

Anything that brings the experience of police officers closer to that of the organised labour movement is likely to lead to a mirroring of attitudes also.

And, as has been shown in the letters column of this paper, with contributions from a small number of former police officers, it is wrong to tar all coppers with a right-wing brush.

As with the army, many working-class youngsters sign up to the police for a variety of reasons, including relatively good starting pay, housing assistance and - don’t discount it - the belief that they are contributing to the safety and well-being of society.

Rank-and-file police officers are realising that, as far as Gordon “Labour means business” Brown is concerned, police, prison officers and firefighters are on a par with civil servants, teachers and nurses.

In other words, their salaries come out of the public purse and, therefore, they are prime targets for pay cuts and diminished living standards.

When Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher was leading the neoliberal charge against the public sector and trade unionism, politicising the police force and using it to literally beat down all opposition to her policies, she saw the sense of keeping the police onside by safeguarding pay and conditions.

Mr Brown has no problem with handing over upwards of £25 billion of public money to bale out a bank that’s been brought to its knees by an avaricious and feckless management.

But, when it comes to working people’s pay and pensions - to say nothing of defence of Britain’s manufacturing capacity - his hands are clenched tight.

To condemn essential workers to what is effectively a 1.9 per cent rise - in reality, a pay cut - is either stupid or provocative.

Mr Brown clearly hopes that this government’s denial of effective trade union rights to its own employees is sufficient to win the day.

But police and prison officers can see that, elsewhere in the world, full trade union rights for the forces of law and order is not regarded as something out of the ordinary.

In South Africa, police and prison officers are organised in the same union POPCRU, just as they used to be in this country until 1919 when the government banned trade unionism and militarised the police.

And in France too, all the trade union federations, from the most class-confrontational to most collaborationist, have a police section.

Any development of police trade unionism is a positive return to civilian status and a rejection of militarisation.

The Fire Brigades Union and Prison Officers Association have extended the hand of friendship to the Police Federation.

The rest of the labour movement should do likewise.

The only way to defeat new Labour’s big business agenda is by mobilising all those who suffer under it to unite in support of peace and social justice.

Those who oppose New Labour's big business agenda equally and indivisibly out of moral and social conservatism, out of patriotism, and out of support for peace and for social justice, you know what you have to do.

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