POLICE MILITANCY vs. LABOR
THE STRIKEBREAKERS GO ON STRIKE…
POLICE MILITANCY vs. LABOR
[First printed in Workers’ Action #8, April-May 1971.]
On the night shift of January 14, New York City patrolmen left their beats to begin a a six day work stoppage; the first such action by the police in the history of the city, The action, unauthorized by the leadership of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), was precipitated by a court ruling effectively barring payment of $2700 in retroactive pay claimed by the PBA as part of a parity arrangement based on a 3 to 3.5 pay ratio of patrolmen to police offcers. During the course of the action PoIice Commissioner Murphy backed up by Mayor Lindsay threatened to call in National Guard to maintain “law and order.” Following their return to work, a subsequent ruling in favor of the PBA claim resulted in a total $3,300 payment in retrocative salaries, bringing base pay of cops up to a whopping $12,150 per year.
The police action has resurrected some serious questions for trade union militants and, significantly, has smoked out some extremly dangerous attitudes within the trade union movement and even among a couple of ostensibly revolutionary organizations regarding the relationship of labor militants to the police action and police in general. What was the real nature of the New York police action? What are “militant policemen”? Are police a part of the working class? How do we define class divisions in society? What are the main features of a capitalist state? Should labor have supported the police action? Is the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) a “union”? The answers to these questions have assumed critical importance because of the recent intensification of struggles by public employees at all levels. In this situation an incorrect understanding of the police and their social role can have immediate disastrous consequences for the trade union movement. It also calls seriously into question the credibility of any political organization claiming to support workers’ struggles that could be so wrong on such a basic question, one going to the very heart of the life and death struggle between Labor and Capital. In order to understand more clearly the reactionary and anti-labor nature of the recent police action, we should examine two partly parallel developments; the attempts by the Lindsay Administration to seek out a confrontation with the municipal unions in the current collective bargaining and a bit of recent history of the dangerous politicalization of the cops in New York City, and elsewhere.
CITY ANTI-LABOR OFFENSIVE
Lindsay, like a number of other big city mayors, has gone over to the offensive in order to resolve the city’s financial crisis by increasing the tax burden and cutting the living conditions of the working’ people of New York. A major element of this offensive has been a virtual declaration of war on city employees and their unions with threats of pay cuts, payless paydays, “furloughs,” and layoffs, since wages are the single biggest item on the City’s budget. These threats became a reality in November when 500 “provisional” city employees were laid off, the first such layoffs in 35 years since Mayor LaGuardia fired thousands of city workers during the depression of the ‘Thirties, After a series of empty threats and much blustering by Victor Gotbaum, Executive Director of District Council 37 (DC 37) which supposedly reprseneted the workers concerned, no action was taken and the handwriting was on the wall for all City employees. Around the same time as bargaining began with the firemen, sanitation workers, sodal services workers and others, the City declared that there would be no increase in basic wages, except for minimal cost-of-living increases, Most recently, the layoff of 10,000 substitute and 7, 000 regular teachers was narrowly averted, when the City Comptroller “borrowed” $35 million from next year’s budget,
Behind all this is more than the usual bargaining period dramatics. A deep economic and social crisis, consisting of increasing widespread unemployment and general economic recession plus the war-based inflation, is affecting the country as a whole and local governments in particular. What this boils down to for New York City is a sharp reduction in revenues from income tax, sales tax, stock transfer tax, etc. As transportation, housing and other living conditions worsen thousands of middle class people and hundreds of businesses are leaving the city, further reducing the tax base. Compounding this are increased costs as thousands of low income workers are driven to welfare because of high unemployment and slashes in Medicaid eligibility, while hundreds of thousands more have their last wage increases eaten up by inflation and increased cost of living, When Lindsay threatened to “cut off” welfare payments to thousands of families, this was a direct attack on poor working people,
Lindsay’s solution to this is simple: cut the wages and jobs of City employees, increase prodoctivty, and tax the hell out of everyone else. But in order to accomplish this, Lindsay must either defeat the unionized city employees or at least neutralize the unions’ responses by persuading the sellout leaders of the unions covering some 360,000 City employees to “cooperate for the common good,” which means joining forces to keep the rank and file under control. But if the carrot (for the labor fakers) doesn’t work the stick is ready too, in the form of a recently enlarged and high-paid police force, as well as troops to be used as announced in “contingency plans” in case of big strikes by city labor. Hanging over the heads of all city workers is the vicious Taylor Law which prohibits strikes by public employees with penalties of unlimited fines and loss of dues checkoff as well as double loss of pay for every day on strike for individual workers,
The union bureaucrats, instead of organizing a general strike against the Taylor Law, hide behind it to counsel moderation. In a recent issue of DC 37’s Public Employee Press (Jan, 29, 1971), Victor Gotbaum complained that the worst feature of the Taylor Law is that it doesn’t really stop strikes and therefore puts sellout leaders like himself on the spot with “dissident members” when bureaucrats opposed such strikes, causing them to be called “coward” and “chicken. ” But his alternative, however, along with Albert Shanker of the UFT and Theodore Kheel, is a local version of the Taft-Harley Law, which while nominally permitting public employee strikes, would provide for a mandatory 60-day “cooling off’ period, as well as binding arbitration for grievances. In fact these same provisions are contained in a bill now before Congress, HR 17383, drafted by DC 37’s parent organization, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and endorsed by its president Jerry Wurf, which is intended to cover all state and public employees if passed!
It is obvious that despite the attempts at betrayal and compromise by fakers like Gotbaum, there can be no compromIse for the thousands of city workers who face these proposed cuts. The City also knows this and has already launched the attack. In the battles that are certain to follow not only does the question of militant leadership assume critical importance, but also the question of who are allies and who are enemies – which brings us back to the question of the police.
STRIKE WAVE INTENSIFIES
It has been a long time in this country since we have seen large scale clashes between organized labor and capital such as the strike wave that has been building force over the last four years. During the 1950’s, following the strike waves after World War II, whole layers of rank and file leaders and militants were purged from the unions along with the “reds,” in the name of patriotism and anti-communism and as a result there was a sharp break in the continuity of tradition and class consciousness in the working class movement. Under these conditions, and during long periods with very little strike activity the real social role of the police sometimes becomes obscured. Add to this, temporary antagonisms between various strata of the population – white vs. black, workers vs. students, one ethnic group against another or any combination of these – and you have a fairly widespread (and often racist) attitude among many woerkers that the police are their “friends,” A couple of violent strikes tends to sort this out, but in the meantime many workers are content to see the cops get the other “real troublemakers.” For instance, the unity between patriotic New York construction workers and the police against “long-haired” anti-war students witnessed last spring will come to an end when the same construction workers go on strike to protect their wages from Nixon’s attack and their “friends” the police come along to beat their heads and break their strike. But the present pro-police attitudes are also reflected in the opportunist positions of many trade union bureaucrats, especially those in municipal employee unions. Outstanding among these are Victor Gotbaum of New York’s DC 37 and Jerry Wurf of AFSCME.
In the issue of Public Employee Press referred to above, Gotbaum referred to the PBA as a “union,” the police action as a “strike” and a “police labor-management crisis,” as well as congratulating Ed(!) Kiernan as a felllow bureaucrat who “kept cool” in the face of “dissident members.” Much worse than this, however, was an outrageous editorial by Jerry Wurf in the Jan.-Feb. 1971 issue of AFSCME’s Public Employee entitled “Policemen as Public Employees.” It would be bad enough if Wurf had only lumped cops in with other public employees, but he actually tries to evoke sympathy for the “oppressed” police, sheds a tear for them: “Boiling underneath the surface was a deepseated, long-held anger about working conditions, anger about what the patrolmen see as a lack of public appreciation for the role they play and the work they do, anger about a society that has burdened the policeman with responsibilities he has neither the tools nor the experience to handle.” Wurf weeps on, “It is even more reflective of the reasons police in America carry a burning anger that the following kind of situation was repeated…” He then goes on to describe an account of six New York cops being attacked by 40 persons when they attempted to make an arrest. Wurf’s analysis of recent police “militancy” is that it reflects “the frustration of today’s under-30 youth who comprise about 40% of the patrol force in New York City.” The editorial then quotes one of these misunderstood youths, “Being a policeman has nothing to do with it. I’m a working man.” What Wurf’s editorial doesn’t mention is that AFSCME presently has some 10,000 cops, including the guard s at Tennessee State Penitentiary, as members, whose substantial dues undoubtedly are no small factor in his sympathetic attitude. We wonder if it will be some of Wurf’s cops that will enforce the 60-day cooling off period called for in his bill? By any standards of labor tradition this man should be denounced as a class traitor and expelled from his lucrative post.
NOT ONLY UNION BUREAUCRATS
This catering to and reinforcing of the present backward class consciousness of sections of organized workers is not confined to cynical, dues collecting union bureaucrats, however. Two “socialist” organizations who are supposed to understand the role of the police in the present social system have recently carried accounts of the New York police action in their papers that agree with Jerry Wurf and the young cop quoted above that “police are workers too.” The Communist party has long been isolated in the trade union movement for its treacherous support of “progressive” bureaucrats like Reuther and Woodcock against the rank and file, its bootlicking support to liberal capitalist politicians, and its groveling apologies for a bureaucratic, Stalinist perversion of socialism. With these dubious credentials it editorializes in the Jan. 16 issue of the Daily World for a “fighting unity of the working class” to defend the police right to strike for “justified wage demands” as municipal workers. Another article in the same issue stated that “New Yorkers (were left with about one-fourth the regular police protection as thousands of cops today began a wildcat job action.” In New York, being “protected” by the police usually means a beating and subsequent charge of assault. Nonetheless they felt obliged to offer a few criticisms which makes their support even more grotesque, referring to the cops’ “racist currents” and “brutality,” their “beating up of strikers, support of “hardhat” beatings of students, and “John Birch cells in the Police Department,” as a few bad features that prevent the police from “winning allies among the people.” Their answer to it all is “community control” of the police, which used to include demands for more black cops until the Red Squad fuIfilled their demand and sent black cop-informers into the Black Panthers. You can’t “control” the police. The ruling class and the state the police work for has to be dismantled. But more of that later.
THE “WORKERS” LEAGUE
The other organization that thinks the cops are workers is a small allegedly revolutionary group called the Workers’ League that fortunately has no influence in the trade unions (except for supporting’ “lesser-evil” candidates for union office) and very few workers. Nevertheless, their position on the police strike is so incredible it affords us the opportunity to argue some important points.
Their paper, the Bulletin, generally consists of labor articles from the N. Y. Times re-written by their “labor correspondents.” This fake workers’ paper is apparently printed by non-union labor at scab wages, since a union bug is conspicuously absent. Their history on the police question actually pre-dates the recent police action by about eighteen months. At that time a spokesman for “the “Committee for New Leadership” (CNL), a small group in the welfare workers’ Local 371 in New York which is supported in the pages of the Bulletin, attempted to get that union to support the demands of the welfare police for “peace officer” status on the grounds that it was a “labor issue.” The welfare cops, however, had been trying for several years to be allowed to wear guns like the rest of the police. Peace Officer status, while bringing higher pay, would also authorize them to wear guns, which is what they were primarily after. The then president Morgenstern argued against the motion on the grounds that the only people the welfare cops could shoot would be social service staff and welfare recipients and the motion was defeated. The Workers League has now resurrected this position in two articles in the Jan. 25 and Feb. 15 issues of the Bulletin. The first article is entitled, “New York Labor Begins Showdown” and is accompanied by a picture of marching cops described in the caption as “militant policemen.” The general gist of the article is that the action by the police had “triggered a whole fight on the part of the city labor movement” creating a situation “which can only be described as on the verge of civil war.” This presumably refers to the threatened use of National Guards to replace the police if their action continued. (This actually happened in the 1863 draft riots when New York police refused to stop rioting pro-Confederate, pro-slavery Irish immigrants from burning down black orphanages in protest to being drafted in the Union army. The entire police force was fired and replaced by Federal troops. That was another action “by “militant” police.) The article describes a meeting where “rank and file patrolmen, raising the clenched fist salute, shouted ‘Kill Kiernan…” A veteran cop is quoted as referring to them as “nothing but hoodlums.” We agree, and would observe that the Nazis also copied their salute from the German communists. Since the cops were carrying their guns and do often kill people, including each other, this was not a hollow threat, although frankly, we would not grieve the loss of Patrolman Kiernan. This “defiance of their leadership symbolizes a change which is occurring in the labor movement as well” the author claims. The article concludes with a call for a general strike to support the police action: “When the patrolmen went out DeLury (sanitationmen), Maye (firemen) and Gotbaum refused to call out their ranks.” Clearly this article, the first enthusiastic response of the WL to the police action, characterizes the police as abandoning their role as the repressive armed force of the capitalist state, ready to take on the National Guard in pursuit of their alleged working class interests, dragging the rest of city labor behind them. What else does the author mean by “Lindsay and the entire capitalist cIass must very well be asking themselves what they face if those they pay to break strikes are themselves striking, if those who advocate and defend ‘law and order’ now defy it .. ” .
The second article, called, incredibly, “In Defense of the Working Class,” is intended as an authoritative statement of position, written by the General Secretary of the Workers League, Timothy Wohlforth. While more cautious in tone it more systematically lays bare the theoretical bankruptcy of this group of ersatz “revolutionaries.” The key section of Wohlforth’s hypothesis draws a parallel with the general strikes of 1919 where the Boston police also went on “strike”’ and is worth quoting: “The significance of all this is the importance of placing the recent New York police strike within the framework of the general movement of the working class and at the same time seeking to understand what underlies this movement of the class. When the repressive arm of the ruling class itself goes on strike, this is not an isolated phenomenon, but a reflection of a very general, deep and profound movement of the working class.” (our emphasis). A key premise to this conclusion is the same as that stated by our youthful cop and Jerry Wurf above, that cops are workers too: “Are we to see only the side of the police as the repressive arm of the state but at the same time not understand that the police are also employees of that state?” and, “when this repressive arm goes on strike it immediately does express the deepest crisis in capitalism and when the question of bringing another repressive arm of the state to smash the police comes up, then the question of civil war is in the air. ” Later he compares the police “strike” to “the growng insurrectionary situation in the Army”. We are being asked to believe nothing less than what we are witnessing now is the beginning of a civil war between the working class and the capitalists rapidly escalating to a classic situation of dual power, where the workers are ready to challenge the government for state power, but with thepolice being cast in the role of a conscript army, insurrecting and coming over (“for the moment, ” says the author) as the vanguard to the side of the working class! This is such a misreading of the current situation and ignoring of the historical experience of the workers’ movement, it is grotesque! Major metropolitan police have never played such a role. In a general strike or a revolutionary situation the police are always the first to clear out because they know what bastards they are.
The truth is just the opposite of the conclusions of the Workers League, the Communist Party, Jerry Wurf and Victor Gotbaum. The police work stoppage was fundamentally an anti-labor action. It was a political strike by a police force that has become dangerously conscious of its social role as the armed defenders of the social system of big business and the “law and order” that protects and maintains the power and privilege of this ruling class. It reflects the general motion of the woring class only in a negative sense, for the motion of the police is the symmetrical, polar opposite of that in the working class and in fact more resembles the recent re-emergence of fascist organizations attacking striking workers in France and Italy, or vigilante bands of police terrorists in Guatemala and other Latin American countries that have been assassinating labor leaders and members of revolutionary workers groups. The New York police are sick and tired of “having one arm tied behind their back” in dealing with militant blacks and Puerto Ricans, anti-war activists, trade union militants, and Lindsay himseif, whom they regard as some kind of “communist.” In short, they and their “employers” are anticipating and preparing for a counter attack against organized labor. The Bulletin article unwittingly admits this very phenomenon when it casually notes, “It should be pointed out that the strike wave of 1919 was shortly followed by a severe witchhunt… ” There are indeed lessons to be learned from 1919 and other turbulent periods of the working class movement, but not the lessons drawn for us by the Workers League. They had better go back to their textbooks on the labor movement, because they have missed the whole point. The police are our enemies, and they are dangerous.
THE PBA’S PAST
The New York cops began to organize in 1963 when the PBA went over from being a paper organization to the “bargaining agent” for all city cops with parallel organizations among transit cops and others. The PBA is not a union – it is basically a right-wing paramilitary political organization with a number of reported overlaps in the John Birch Society and Minutemen-type organizations, with an annual income of $10 million a year from dues and pension contributions. In the last years of the Wagner administration the cops were given an “open season” on Blacks and Puerto Ricans. The phony “Blood Brothers” panic, the 1964 Harlem police riots, the series of “accidental” killings by the cops in 1964-65 (paralleling the current rash of “suicides'” in City jails) were all a part of this. During this period the cops acquired a new consciousness as the City’s armed enforcers of racism – and they liked it! When Lindsay became mayor in 1966 and broke up the old police hierarchy, known as the “Irish mafia,” that controlled the Police Department and later attempted to set up a token Civilian Review Board to play “soft cop” the police organized politically, joining forces with the Conservative Party, the John Birch Society and an assortment of racist and right-wing groups anddefeated that timid proposal. Was that picket line of 10,000 armed, off-duty police around City Hall chanting “Lindsay is a commie” and “No Civilian Review Board” a “militant action” also? The same John J. Cassese that was a key figure in organizing the New York PBA (until he left under the cloud of an alleged embezzling scandal in 1969) Is now attempting to form a national organization of police called the Brotherhood of Police Officers (BPO), a move we regard as extremely dangerous, posing the spectre of a centrally directed political organization. Is that a “union” that these champions of police “militancy” would have the trade unions support when it tries a national strike to protest the refusal of the AFL-CIO to charter it? (The BPO’s first attempt at such a charter was recently scuttled by Jerry Wurf who regarded it simply as an attempted “raid” on AFSCME’s cop members.
EVEN GEORGE MEANY…
Are cops then workers and a part of the labor movement? Even George Meany said “no” to that some years back when the New York PBA first applied for AFL-CIO recognition. Since then he’s moved so far right he sees eye to eye with the cops on most questions. But he has a lot of company these days, and some pretty strange bedfellows at that. Well, how do we figure out who are workers and who aren’t? In a class society like ours the main social divisions are based upon the difference in the relationship of persons to the process of production. The way in which people enter into economic relations with each other for the purpose of production decide the social relations between them, that is, decides which class each person belongs to and the ensuing class relations. This division gives us one class, the capitalists, composed of those who own all the means of production and exchange – factories, mines, mills, railroads, banks – and a class of workers composed of those who own only their mental and physical abiity to work, and who must sell that ability to the capitalists by the hour or week in order to live. This includes public employees who sell their labor power to local, state, or federal governments as postal workers, motormen, clerks, sanitation workers, teachers, welfare workers, etc. There are also a variety of middle classes – small merchants and farmers, professional people, etc. – but the main decisive classes in society are workers and capitalists. Despite Wurf’s and the Workers League’s protests that the police are workers simply because they are salaried employees, ignoring entirely their very special social function, it is obvious that based on the above criteria, cops, as professional strikebreakers, fall entirely outsidethe social relations of the process of production, regardless of their social origins, and so are neither workers, nor part of the working class. While most policemen are generally of working class social origins, they are specifically hired and trained to function as class traitors, and bear a greater resemblance to a mercenary army, de-classed socially and economically. This was easier to see in the company towns of the late 19th century where the police were often hired by the coal mine or factory owners. As late as the early 1940’s, old Henry Ford had his own goon squad to keep the workers in line and breakup unionizing attempts. The mere fact that these scum were paid for their dirty work obviously didn’t make them “workers,” in any scientific class sense of the word. The same goes for Pinkertons, FBI agents, labor spies, informers, etc.
ROLE OF THE POLICE
The police, then, are special bodies of armed men. separated entirely from the rest of the population. These police, and also the Army and National Guard, etc., backed up by a system of prisons, are the backbone, the very essence, of the capitalist state, whose basic function is to maintain through force or threat of force the rule of that class in order to economically exploit the working class. In every important and decisive conflict, the cops are the instrument of that state apparatus and stand on the side of private property and big business, backed up by pro-capitalist laws, judges, courts, and prisons.
In no sense are these bodies of armed men “neutral” in the class struggle, although great efforts are made to convince people that they are. It isn’t often that one sees the class character of the state power of big business operating in its naked form. Where the government is an outright capitalist dictatorship, which ruthlessly suppresses all trade unions and workers political organizations, wiping out representative government and all democratic rights and institutions, as was the case in Nazi Germany, the class character of the system is easily recognizable and unmistakable. But this causes a great deal of trouble for the capitalists and they only resort to naked military rule when the working people are no longer fooled by the sugar coating of law and order” and “peaceful, legal. means” and decide to struggle to run their own society in their own name, directly threatening therefore the social rule of big business. Every strike has all the elements of this life and death struggle with the company having the pickets arrested, hauled into court by the police, charged by the judge with violating some right of private property, and sent off to prison for daring to challenge the rule of the company.
This is why the question of the role of the police, as raised by the New York police action, is of such fundamental importance. It goes to the very heart of the struggle of the working class and does not allow for any mistakes. Labor bureaucrats understand this and constantly strive to obscure the real nature of the system, since it is their job to keep the workers under control. But for us there’s only one conclusion to draw from this issue: the cops are our enemies, and they are dangerous!