Wednesday, December 03, 2014

like stick em up there's dirty history involved with overseers labor unions...,

jacobinmag |   Their profession is heavily unionized. Culturally, they have more in common with bus drivers than business executives. Many come from working-class backgrounds.

Yet on the beat, police come in contact with — to question, to arrest, to brutalize — the most disadvantaged. This presents a problem for radicals. If the Left stands for anything, it’s worker emancipation and labor militancy. But police and others in the state’s coercive apparatus, workers themselves in many respects, are the keepers of class society. Their jobs exist to maintain social control and protect the status quo.

The introduction of unions to this portion of the state raises additional concerns. Can “coercive unions” ever advocate for the broader working class, rather than members’ narrow self-interests? Or are police unions irredeemably reactionary?

It’s easy to focus on the individual over the institution. Not a few police officers are drawn to the profession out of a desire to “serve the public.” Many genuinely want to serve, and take great pride in their chosen occupation. Police don’t have to enjoy breaking up protests; they don’t have to be racists or hate homeless people. But once they decide to do their jobs, institutional exigencies overwhelm personal volition. When there’s mass resistance to poverty and inequality, it’s the cops who are summoned to calm the panic-stricken hearts of the elite. They bash some heads, or infiltrate and disrupt some activist groups, and all is right in the world again.

Such is the inherent defect of law-enforcement unionism: It’s peopled by those with a material interest in maintaining and enlarging the state’s most indefensible practices.

It’s hard to imagine how it could be any different. Chicago teachers, exemplifying the kind of social-movement unionism that defends the working class broadly, organized the community before their strike by trumpeting a vision of equitable education. The Left cheered. How could anything similar be achieved by prison guards? A police strike would appear to signal an incipient authoritarianism, cops untamed by democratic dictates. How could empowering police — increasingly militarized and shot through with a culture of preening brutality — yield anything but stepped-up repression? How could the traditional socialist goal of worker self-management result in anything but a dystopia of metastasizing prisons, imperious cops, and Minuteman-esque border-patrol guards? The best we can hope for from police, it seems, is passivity.

As Kristian Williams documents in Our Enemies in Blue, professionalized policing arose in the United States amid urbanization in the 1820s and 1830s. Controlling “dangerous” classes (principally of the industrial working variety), more than ameliorating any pronounced spike in crime, was the reason for its formation. The institution had its roots in slave patrols, which were established to control the behavior of slaves — the “dangerous” classes of that day.