Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Classic Reprint: The last time the police went on strike (2008)

From the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
What we said in 1919 about the police unrest and strikes of that time. Ironically today’s demonstrations are organised by the Police Federation, the company union set up in 1919 to stop a real union being organised.
Bobby’s discretion

So, the bobbies have funked it. We are not, for the present, at all events, to be treated to the comic spectacle of strike processions of bluebottles being shepherded through the streets by their own blacklegs, the “specials.” The world has lost an entertainment.

Of course, we are not blind to the difficulties of the policemen’s situation. Their bosses had got the strangle-hold on them. By the simple expedient of stopping sixpence in the pound of their wages, confiscating their fees for the service of summons, and in other dubious ways, the capitalists provide a pensions fund at poor Looby’s expense. The loss of this pension, together with the “sack,” is the first threat the bosses hold over the bobbies’ heads. Bobby is a man with no other trade in his hands in the vast majority of cases. So the threat of losing a regular job has special terrors for him. In addition, the loss of his pension—a pension designed, as most pensions are, to get a disciplinary grip upon the subject which probably no other expedient possible in a “free country” could afford, is a prospect requiring a quite uncommon type of mind to withstand.

The bosses, of course, played the game for all it was worth. They said they were flooded with applications from soldiers and ex-soldiers to take the policemen’s jobs. They also talked loudly but vaguely about the arrangements that were being made to meet Buttons’ grievances. It was the old game of bribe some and threaten others—the game played from the beginning to the end of the recruiting for the war—the game played to kill the demobilisation trouble after the Armistice. As, in the earlier case, the single and the young were promised jobs and preferment if they enlisted, and the married and the older ones were threatened that they would have to go if they did shove the others in; as, later, the older men were promised early demobilisation if they kept quiet, and detention till the last if they did not, while the younger men were soothed with extra money, so the older policemen were threatened more particularly with the loss of all that was so nearly won, while the younger men were soothed with promised improvements in the longer road before them.

Meanwhile the policemen played their cards just about as badly as they could. They have climbed down under threats—than which hardly anything could more completely have exposed their weakness and fear. Added to this they have climbed down before their bosses had committed themselves to the vaguely talked-of concessions, and in face of this confession of funk and weakness those concessions are going to shrivel up considerably. The bosses have found out all they wanted to know—that the reward they are offering their bulldogs is sufficient to secure their allegiance to their odious duties. If they dare not decline those duties for themselves they can never dare to decline to perform them for others. So, when labour troubles come Bobby will not, the masters are assured, be a trade unionist, and they have secured this, thanks to their cunning, at about the lowest possible price.

The Daily Chronicle in its issue of June 2 tries to point out to the policemen why the Government can never recognise the Police Union, and, as usual, it reveals only half the truth. “The police exist,” our contemporary says, “to support the State. That is what they are for. . . They cannot strike and agitate, or even become public politicians, without ceasing to be policemen.” Which is true enough as far as it goes, but does not dispose of the not unimportant fact that the policeman is so essentially a member of the exploited class that he cannot get his admitted grievances redressed until he threatens to cease to be a policeman.

The more important matter, however, is the statement that a policeman is only such to support the State. The complement of this half truth is, of course, that the State is only an instrument for keeping the workers in subjection. Directly this position is realised it becomes obvious how far the police are from getting recognition for any police union that could possibly link them with the unions of the industrial world. The position of police force affiliated with the industrial trade unions would indeed be a tragic one in a time of strife. This the bosses have sense enough to perceive, if the underlings have not. And it is for this reason rather than that they are afraid of being dictated to by the men that the Government will never recognise the Police Union.

It was probably a lie that the police authorities are inundated with blackleg applications from soldiers, but the capitalists have a deep pocket, and, as long as their control of the instrument of the State lasts will have no serious difficulty in obtaining men who will carry out their behests. It is simply a question of the price.

The only thing that can deliver the policeman—as the rest of us— from the tyranny of his tormentors is for the working class to assume control of the State, and to use its forces, including the police, to abolish capitalism and establish the Socialist Commonwealth.
(editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1919)


The police v. the police

The capitalist Press has been busy explaining to Simple Simon that the action of the police in “breaking their oath” is not only mutiny, but “a crime.” Of course, it is always a crime when the bulldog turns and rends its master’s hand, notwithstanding that that hand was doing things with a stick. But there is another side to the question.

During the long period when the workers were more somnolent than they are now, and that condition was reflected in a far more incomplete organisation and a far greater trust in and submission to their union officials, the bosses were not so much afraid of the “labour unrest” as they are to-day. Consequently they did not attach the same importance to the bobby as they do now, and they made the mistake of paying him accordingly.

The result was inevitable. Notwithstanding his oath, the policeman was forced to struggle for a betterment of his miserable condition. More even than in other trades—if that were possible—this necessarily meant organisation. A union was formed, and as the aspect of industrial affairs became darker, a police trade union, affiliated possibly with other trade unions, deriving a certain amount of its strength from those unions, was regarded as an extremely sinister thing.

The bosses got a bit nervous. They made panic concessions, and then they started to cut out the “cancer”—in other words, to smash the union.

Now it is quite clear that the men owed every jot and tittle of the improvement in their condition to the union. Their oath availed them nothing. It was only intended to bind them to vile conditions of pay and tyrannical discipline. They might have stood meekly by it till doomsday, nothing would have been done for them. Only when they seriously threatened to commit the “crime” of leaving their oath to look after itself, as butcher Asquith did his registration and other pledges, and Lloyd George did his pledge concerning sending young boys to the “front,” did the masters deign to give them some measure of alleviation.

It is quite plain, then, where the crime comes in. It is certainly not in breaking their oath, which they had been driven to do by the callous indifference of the bosses to their claims, but in their desertion of the instrument which had gained them so much. To allow that to be crushed out, and those who had undertaken the task of organising them for the struggle, to go down in the hour of victory is both a mean and cowardly crime.

Writers in this paper have previously pointed out how extremely unlikely it was that any sort of union that could be any good to the men would secure official recognition. The forecast seems to be pretty correct. Had the police, however, behaved with sufficient courage and intelligence as to force the question of recognition to a successful issue, the simple and inevitable result must have been the increased use of bayonets instead of batons in industrial disputes. The masters have more strings than one to their bow.
A. E. Jacomb
(Socialist Standard, August 1919).

Thicker than Water / Obituary of a capitalist ? (2008)

From the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the late 1970s a shepherd in Perthshire, Scotland was made redundant. Around the same time the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher was starting its privatisation programme, including the deregulation of public transport, permitting anyone to provide bus services in competition to the council services. The shepherd gave his £25,000 redundancy pay to his two children, Ann and Brian, to buy two second-hand buses.

Accelerate twenty-five years forward and their company (Stagecoach) has grown into an international transport conglomerate extending to bus, rail and airport operations, with holdings in five continents and turnover of £1.5bn.

Brian Souter is now the richest man in Scotland and his sister Ann Gloag is the richest woman. Souter has an explanation for this: “ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do, because capitalism is based on greed”. But unknown to many there was a third founder of Stagecoach, way back in the early 1980s. What happened to him ?

In December 2007 a number of newspapers reported on the death of the third founder, Robin Gloag. Who’s Robin Gloag to deserve an obituary, you might wonder? He certainly was not well-known, but his was arguably the flip-side of a capitalist “success” story. It would be hard to read his obituary and not reflect on the misery capitalism causes.

Robin Gloag at one time owned one-third of Stagecoach, along with Brian Souter and Ann Gloag – his wife. At the time of his death he still retained one share in Stagecoach the international bus and train company. “They tried to get me to sign it away, but it’s still in my name… They didn’t push hard enough and I didn’t fall off a cliff.”

But he was all but pushed off a cliff, being legally shafted within the rules of the market when the thieves fell out. Brian Souter and his sister Ann manoeuvred Robin Gloag out of the business after 3 years. It seemed he didn’t have the necessary personality or willingness to match their ambitions for the fledgling company. He preferred to have his head under the bonnet of the coaches.

He was given £8000 to leave. But when he used this pay-off from Stagecoach to set up a small-scale rival running only one small route near Perth this was still perceived as too much of a threat by his (now ex) wife and brother-in-law . They halved their fares then dropped them to nothing to put him out of business altogether. No love appears to have been lost. After putting his company into administration, Ann Gloag and Soutar purchased it for pennies and sacked him.

Dysfunctional families falling out over money happens regardless of class of course. World socialists aren’t interested in individuals – it’s the system we oppose. We are opposed to the nice fluffy capitalists just as much as the bastards, the Richard Bransons and Anita Roddicks, as well as the Brian Souters or the Conrad Blacks of this world.

As the business grew, the ultra-competitiveness with which Stagecoach forced Robin Gloag off the roads become legendary in the initial cowboy world of unregulated bus services . One Monopolies and Mergers Commission judgement branded Stagecoach’s behaviour as “deplorable, predatory and against the public interest”. Investors were delighted however.

While Ann amassed enormous wealth, Robin Gloag continued to work at his small coach hire business. He was no capitalist : “I am far too soft” he said. Ironically, he had planned to run it as long as he was fit enough, reflecting: “It’s what I have always done and I enjoy it… I have never been afraid of hard work.” Robin Gloag died in December 2007 working at the age of 64; he was covering a shift for one of his employees who was sick.

The Stagecoach story is a lesson in the random nature of business success. Capitalism partly justifies itself on the basis that it is open to anyone to become a capitalist. In reality the vast majority of the members of the capitalist class were born in the right bed to start with. But there are exceptions, including the shepherd’s children, Ann Gloag and Brian Souter. But their story is not one of incredible initiative or hard work, just a fair bit of money to start with and good timing (the launch of Stagecoach conveniently coincided with a national rail strike). Plus of course a willingness to shaft anyone – friends or family – who got in the way.

On the same day that Robin Gloag was killed at work, Stagecoach reported healthy six-monthly results, posting a 9 percent rise in profits to £85 million.
Brian Gardner

Against multinationals (2008)

Book Review from the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Multinationals on Trial by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer. (Ashgate, 2007.)

The basic thesis of this book is that multinational corporations (MNCs) are not simply capitalist corporations which have investments throughout the world in search of the highest rate of profit, but that they are also agents of the states in which they have their home base, helping them to build up and consolidate an “empire”.

Their argument is that MNCs investing in Third World countries do not benefit them or help them to develop; on the contrary, through various financial devices and unequal contracts, they are vehicles for extracting and transferring wealth from these countries back to the home country. Further, once established in a Third World country, they outcompete or takeover local businesses and corrupt and co-opt local politicians and officials. The local politicians then come to adopt a foreign policy favourable to the home state and the process of the incorporation of their country into that state’s empire is achieved. The “imperial” state in turn helps their MNCs by using institutions such as the IMF and WTO to facilitate MNC entry into other countries through the imposition or negotiation of measures to encourage foreign investment, tariff-free trade, repatriation of profits, denationalisations and the protection of MNC property rights.

There is a certain amount of truth in this. States do support MNCs in this way, but it is not so obvious that MNCs are conscious agents of a state’s “imperialist” ambitions, especially as Petras and Veltmeyer are not always clear which states are “imperial”: The US (of course) but sometimes they speak of “the Euro-American Empire” or the West generally, so avoiding the problem of deciding whose empire a euro-american MNC would be helping to build.

“Imperialism” is a slippery word as all states seek to channel as much of world profits their way as they can. It is just that some states are stronger – some, much, much stronger – than others and so are better at doing this. In which case “imperialist” would just be another way of describing the successful states. But this does not mean that currently weaker states are not striving to do the same.

Petras and Veltmeyer take the side of the weaker states in this world-wide struggle between all states to grab a share of world profits and offer advice to developing countries on how to combat the policies of the stronger, more successful states. The authors tell them not to rely on foreign investment to develop, but to adopt measures such as nationalisation, state monopoly of foreign trade, protectionism and ex- change controls instead. In short, a policy of national state capitalism, although they themselves don’t use this term. They see themselves as “anti-imperialist” and even pro-working class and socialist. Anti-imperialist maybe, but not socialist.

At the end of the first chapter, they grossly distort Marx’s materialist conception of history when they write of “the class and national struggle, which as Marx once pointed out is the ‘motor force of his- tory’” (our emphasis). Marx did indeed see class struggles as the motor force of history, but not national struggles as such. National(ist) struggles are class struggles under an ideological smokescreen, but not of the working class. They are either struggles by an aspiring capitalist class to establish themselves as a new national ruling class or struggles by an established but weak national owning class to gather a bigger share of world profits for themselves. There is no reason why socialists should support them.
Adam Buick