Workers Hammer No. 231
Ireland: Socialist Party backs call for cop “union”
On 30 April, a vote took place in Dail Eireann (the Irish parliament) on the “Industrial Relations (Members of An Garda Siochana and the Defence Forces) Bill 2015”. The bill was proposed by Labour Party TD (member of parliament) Michael McNamara. It aimed to allow the Garda (Irish police) to join the trade union movement — something which is effectively prohibited by law — and to grant them the “right to strike”. In the upshot, the McNamara proposal was defeated in parliament by a combination of the two governmental parties — the bourgeois Fine Gael and the social-democratic Labour Party — with the main bourgeois opposition party Fianna Fail.
The McNamara bill did receive the support of 24 deputies — an odd mix of some that are regularly on the receiving end of cop violence and those that would welcome moves towards a police state. The bloc was composed of an assortment of self-styled leftists (including former supporters of the now defunct United Left Alliance), the Republicans of Sinn Fein and a coterie of right-wing elements. The latter included a new party, Renua Ireland, an anti-abortion split from Fine Gael. Joining them all in support of the cops was the TD Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party, Irish affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI).
The cops in Ireland are generally despised and resented by the working class. For class-conscious workers it is a simple fact of life under capitalism that the police are their enemies. As far back as 1913, when the working class was confronted with murderous cop violence during the Dublin Lockout, revolutionary syndicalist workers leader, James Connolly, called for an armed workers militia. The workers of Dublin, both men and women, responded and the Irish Citizens Army was founded to defend the working class against attacks by the police.
Yet numerous times in the intervening decades, pro-capitalist misleaders of the working class have peddled the pernicious notion that police and prison guards are part of the workers movement, and that their demands for “unionisation” must be supported. This myth is partly a reflection of the low level of class struggle — itself a product of the wilful treachery of the trade union bureaucracy. Sharp trade union battles so desperately needed to fight government austerity on both sides of the Irish Sea would quickly destroy any idea that the cops can be won over to the side of the trade union movement.
When it comes to keeping alive the hoary myth that the police are “workers in uniform”, the efforts of the CWI and its national sections are unsurpassed. This organisation routinely supports strikes by cops and prison guards. Indeed in Britain the CWI in 2009 grotesquely welcomed the then leader of the Prison Officers Association (POA) into its own ranks. In Ireland it advocates rights for airport security guards. The Socialist Party’s touching faith in the capitalist state would be hilarious if it weren’t so dangerously stupid. Speaking at Leader’s Questions in the Dail on 17 February, Ruth Coppinger, another of the party’s TDs, read out a letter from a garda who complained that the government was bringing the police into disrepute by sending them against water charges protesters. Coppinger complained that the Garda and the courts were “being used to defend corporate interests and the establishment”. Cops defending the interests of the capitalists? Well fancy that!
The Socialist Party’s call for “a police force that should be answerable to working class people and communities” (socialistparty.ie, 6 December 2014) is classic social-democratic reformism. The cops are not part of the workers movement but its irreconcilable enemy. The police force, prisons and courts constitute the core of the capitalist state, the bosses’ apparatus of repression which exists to ensure that the capitalists can go about their business in relative peace, reaping enormous profits off the backs of the working class. One of the tasks of the International Communist League as Marxist revolutionaries is to instil into the working class the understanding that the capitalist state is not some neutral arbiter between the interests of the different classes but exists to enforce the will of the bosses. The job of the cops includes breaking strikes and terrorising the oppressed. Our call is: Cops and prison guards out of the unions! The same applies to security guards, who are private cops acting as auxiliaries to the bosses and their state.
Police “strikes”: threat to workers/minorities
Within the Garda ranks there exists an ominous organisation — the Garda Representative Association (GRA) — which seeks the very legal changes that the McNamara bill and the Socialist Party support. The GRA has been campaigning for years for the right to strike. We warn that any move for police “unionisation” or the “right to strike” is not a development in the direction of trade union consciousness. Quite the opposite. Such moves express the bonapartist appetites of the police to break free from the fetters of bourgeois democracy and to act as judge, jury and executioner, unhindered by the courts or by parliament and its laws.
While the forms of bourgeois democracy — free elections to a sovereign parliament etc — serve to camouflage the reality that capitalist rule is based on armed force, the ability of the cops to operate without the constraints of formal democracy is clearly a heightened danger to all the oppressed. In a country where most cops do not carry guns, the GRA’s current campaigns provide a flavour of what a strike by the Garda would demand. Not only do they want more cops and higher salaries, they are running a campaign to have the Uzi submachine gun restored to the armed response units. They have welcomed the provision of pepper spray to the rank and file, but feel it doesn’t go far enough and call for all cops to be armed with Taser stun guns. Also, they want better armour protection for their members and the issuance of leg restraints!
A successful police strike, whether for more pay, for weaponry or for more autonomous powers, can only mean enhancing the confidence and the ability of the cops to carry out their task of repression. What do Paul Murphy and his fellow “socialists” think a stronger, better-organised police force would be used for? In Ireland the Garda regularly carry out arrests, harassment and detention of dissident Republicans, as well as brutal violence against the homeless and evictions of tenants from their homes. In 2013 the cops were involved in a spate of state-sponsored kidnappings of Roma (Gypsy) children. Most recently the Irish state has been targeting the anti-water charges protests. Across Ireland there have been mass protests against the introduction of a regressive charge on domestic water. This tax, borne largely by the poor and by the working class, was dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the EU, and has been implemented by the utterly servile Irish government. In order to get the EU diktat through, the Irish state has resorted to using police violence, the courts and the prison system. Many of the protests have been at the community level and have been met with brutal cop assaults. A number of protesters have been thrown into prison. Many more have been arrested, among them one Paul Murphy TD, the same “socialist” now supporting a call that would give the cops more power!
The Socialist Party’s solicitude for the cops is integral to its social-democratic programme of electing a government that will nationalise industry, while leaving the capitalist state intact. As opposed to the CWI’s traditions, the revolutionary parties the ICL seeks to build will be guided by Marx’s understanding drawn from the lessons of the Paris Commune of 1871 — the first time in history that workers seized power — that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes” (The Civil War in France, 1871). As regards which class the police represent, we stand with Friedrich Engels who wrote in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845): “Because the English bourgeois finds himself reflected in his law, as he does in his God, the policeman’s truncheon which, in a certain measure, is his own club, has for him a wonderfully soothing power. But for the working man quite otherwise!”