Workers Hammer No. 245
Socialists glorify 1919 cop strike
8 April 2019
I enjoyed the article ‘Britain’s Prison Hell’ in Workers Hammer 244. It’s worth adding that The Socialist has had to rewrite history to justify crossing the class line to support police and prison officers.
The National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) was formed after the Home Office reneged on a promise to pay the police a bonus for their strikebreaking activities during the 1912 London dockers’ strike. Writing in the Police Review, ‘Sam Buck’ complained that ‘at the start of the strike we were cheered by rumours that if we succeeded in quelling the strike we should be remunerated with a substantial rise of pay’.
From its inception NUPPO was explicitly opposed to the labour movement. In response to fears of a general strike in early 1919, NUPPO organiser John Zollner declared that ‘in the event of anything happening with the other trade unions, it is the duty of every policeman, whether he was in the streets, on the railway, or at the docks, to maintain law and order’.
What NUPPO meant by ‘maintain law and order’ was seen on Glasgow’s ‘Bloody Friday’ in January 1919 when hundreds of workers were injured as police rioted. George Ebury, a leftist organiser of the British Socialist Party, spoke alongside John Maclean in Glasgow five months later and denounced the so-called police ‘trade union’, saying that ‘there was no difference between a union and a non-union baton’.
And when future CPGB leader Harry Pollitt tried to raise support for the short-lived NUPPO strike in the summer of 1919, he met with hostility from London dockers who asked: ‘Harry, how can you stick up for the coppers? They batoned us down in the dock strike in 1912’.
NUPPO also bragged of its members in Dublin’s notorious Mountjoy prison, where trade unionists were incarcerated and Republicans executed, and in Glasgow’s Duke Street prison, the very gaol in which John Maclean and other Red Clydeside militants were incarcerated during World War One.
As in most working-class families, my parents told me never to trust the police, and a formative political experience was my and my schoolmates support for the 1976 Hull jail protest against prison brutality. The Socialist’s support for the police and prison officers is not only a violation of Marxist principle, but also of elementary proletarian consciousness.