The police are once again sinking in a swamp of corruption and racism. Yet the Tory cuts are so severe that even the cops plan to march against them later this month.
This reflects the depth of the crisis facing our rulers. But does it mean the police are “workers in uniform” who can be won to left wing ideas or support our campaigns for jobs and services?
Some police officers may come from working class backgrounds, although many do not. But they aren’t part of the working class. They are part of a state that exists to maintain class rule.
Our rulers tell us that the police exist to protect everyone equally and keep us safe from crime. In reality their role is to protect the ruling class—by any means necessary.
Ordinary people protested against the police from the start. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 to discipline the developing working class. One of its first major tasks was to contain the Chartists, who were fighting for parliamentary reform.
In August 1842 police charged Chartists on horses, injuring hundreds. Groups of protesters escaped down side streets and threw missiles at the cops.
Similar battles between police and anyone who challenges the system have continued to this day. We saw them during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, the Poll Tax Riot in 1990, the student protests in 2010 and time and time again on anti-Nazi protests.
The role of the police also explains why officers are, as a group, more reactionary and right wing than the rest of us.
Under capitalism a tiny minority of rich people live by exploiting the vast majority—the working class. This elite promotes ideas to divide workers against each other—ideas such as racism, sexism and homophobia.
The police exist to prop up this grubby system, so they accept the ideas that flow from it. This is why they are racist and sexist to the core.
It’s why black people are disproportionately likely to be stopped and searched or to die in police custody. And it’s why rape victims often aren’t taken seriously.
These ideas are reinforced by the police’s day-to-day work. Unlike workers, they wield enormous power over others. The cops are there to uphold bourgeois law, so their day-to-day work involves bullying working class people.
They are socialised within the force to stereotype sections of workers as “scum” and to treat them with suspicion and contempt. You can see this in how cops police football matches or how they harass poor people on the street.
What about when police struck in 1919? This was a rare event that took place as Britain faced a near-revolutionary situation. The strike was soon broken with bribes and the army—and police have never struck since.
In 1931 the police protested about pay. They won some support from unemployed workers who were fighting to defend their own living standards. But days after the police protested they attacked unemployed marchers. And again, the government was able to buy the cops’ loyalty relatively easily.
The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky described the police as “fierce, implacable, hated and hating foes”. He added, “To win them over is out of the question. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”