Workers Hammer No. 238
Ireland: CWI hustles for cops
The following article first appeared in Workers Vanguard no 1102, 16 December 2016. The Irish Socialist Party’s British co-thinkers not only campaign for support to the prison officers “union” in Britain, but even run articles in their press by a prison officer! An article hailing “Mass prison officer walkout over health and safety issues” boasted that an earlier issue of their press was “snapped up” by “prison officers eager to read the article by one of their own” (socialistparty.org.uk, 15 November 2016).
Not to be outdone, the Socialist Party’s one-time comrades in the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) likewise urge working-class support for prison officers. “An experienced prison officer is a valuable asset”, says the IMT, bemoaning “the poor reward offered in return for the danger staff face on a daily basis” (socialist.net, 2 March). Cops and prison officers are the capitalists’ thugs and torturers. Those who champion their cause are not Marxists but rather rank apologists for bourgeois state repression.
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DUBLIN — In October 2016, the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which has some 10,500 members in the Garda Síochána [Civil Guards, the Irish police], announced four one-day “strikes” during November demanding pay rises. Faced with mass “insubordination”, the Garda high command drew up plans to mobilise senior officers and trainees to maintain “law and order” and even mooted the imposition of martial law! Just hours before the first of these “strikes” was to take place on 4 November, the government came up with an offer of nearly 50 million euros in extra pay for its thugs in blue.
The police are not workers, but a central part of the capitalist state. The purpose of the state, which also includes the courts, prisons and military, is to defend the interests of the tiny class of exploiters, the bourgeoisie, who rule society. The cops are used to break strikes, including by enforcing injunctions against workers pickets. They carry out racist repression against immigrants and Travellers and suppress opposition to the capitalist rulers and their diktats.
Over the last several months, the Irish state has used a prominent feud between rival drug gangs to put on a show of force. In a country where most cops have historically not been armed, many working-class districts in Dublin are now regularly littered with roadblocks manned by the Garda’s armed response unit. In addition to demanding more pay, the GRA has been campaigning to give the cops additional firepower — from more widespread use of Tasers to the return of Uzi submachine guns for armed detectives.
The threatened Garda “strikes” were particularly ominous given the current high level of discontent within the working class. After the 2008 economic crash, workers in Ireland were forced to accept wage cuts and tax hikes under European Union-mandated austerity while the banks were bailed out. Now, the capitalists’ profits are soaring and the government is touting renewed economic growth, while demanding that workers continue to make sacrifices. Dublin tram and bus workers have gone on strike this year, as have high school teachers nationwide, and other workers in both the public and private sector are threatening to strike.
The generous terms for the police stand in sharp contrast to the government’s refusal to grant wage demands from workers unions. Of course, this is no accident. The wage settlement with the cops was all about the capitalists and their government ensuring a reliable cohort of strikebreaking thugs. When Margaret Thatcher became British prime minister in 1979, one of her first acts was to approve a massive pay rise for the police, whom she went on to unleash against striking steel and mineworkers and anyone else who dared stand up to her.
While class-conscious workers in Ireland know the cops are their enemies, the reformists of the Socialist Party (part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, whose US section is Socialist Alternative) declared, “The strike action by Gardai should be supported.” The Socialist Party’s 20 October statement lamented that “demoralisation in the Gardaí is high”, and went on to claim: “A victory for the Gardai in their dispute with the government will further strengthen the hand of workers fighting for pay rises.” No! Any “victory” for the cops means a police force more emboldened to carry out its basic task, namely repression in defence of capitalist rule. It poses a real threat to the working class, the oppressed and anyone who dares resist the depredations of capitalism.
In addition to the cash, the government has also offered the GRA access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, both state institutions that are historically involved in negotiations with trade unions. Thus, the GRA may come one big step closer to its goal of being officially recognised as a trade union. In this endeavour too, the cops find strong support from the Socialist Party. Only last year, one of its TDs [members of the Irish parliament], Paul Murphy, voted for union rights for the GRA. We warned at the time: “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” (“Ireland: Socialist Party backs call for cop ‘union’”, Workers Hammer no 231, Summer 2015). Indeed, such bonapartist tendencies were displayed in October, when the cops made it clear that they intended to defy the Garda Commissioner’s orders to turn up for duty.
Ireland has seen enormous protests in recent years against the introduction of a regressive tax on domestic water supply that have been met with police attacks and arrests. The Socialist Party’s touching faith in the capitalist state has not even been lessened by the fact that its own members and supporters have been hit by the state’s repressive powers. Paul Murphy and several others are facing outrageous charges of “false imprisonment” — ie, kidnapping — because a car carrying the then Labour Party leader and government minister Joan Burton was surrounded by a crowd of protesters in November 2014. We say: Drop the charges against Paul Murphy and all the protesters!
In its 20 October statement, the Socialist Party portrays the cops as some kind of uniformed workers who could operate “under the democratic control of working class communities”. Their line on the police is no aberration. Peter Taaffe and other founding leaders of the CWI have been promoting the cops as “workers in uniform” for decades. In a 1983 pamphlet titled “The State...a warning to the labour movement”, the Taaffeites called for “the right of the police to an independent, democratic trade union organisation to defend their interests as workers”.
The CWI’s line on the cops is intrinsic to their perspective of reforming capitalism through building “movements” that will pressure the bourgeoisie to enact a decent social order through a progression of baby steps. Such a strategy fuels deadly illusions among the working class and the downtrodden that an end to oppression can come about without the overturn of the whole capitalist system. Genuine Marxists, building on the lessons of history — not least the 1917 Bolshevik-led Revolution in Russia — recognise that getting rid of the exploitation, oppression and misery inherent to capitalism requires that the capitalist state and its “special bodies of armed men” be swept aside through socialist revolution and that the working class install itself as the ruler of society.