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Class Consciousness Project

Dec 3, 2023

(To Police; to control or maintain order)

After recent events where four of our comrades were arrested at a Palestine demonstration while they were innocuously selling literature, we think its pertinent to explain what the police are and why these agents of the state should never be trusted.

As British cities grew larger and more industrial, the local councils would employ local men of standing or strength to work as local enforcers, called Watchmen, to enforce curfews and other regulations set by owners of the local industries, who would often be part of Parliament and/or local councils. Most of these Watchmen would often have other employment to supplement this role, or would be employed as and when needed. Henry III’s proclamation of Assize of Arms of 1252 created the role of constables to call men (Watchmen) to arms when needed to quell any civic unrest. They were also employed to enforce night curfews on feudal towns and cities, locking up any unfortunate soul to be caught out at the wrong time.

These were not noblemen or feudal lords, but serfs and peasants, employed to police their friends and neighbours. These were often chosen for their standing in society, but also their size and physical stature. This was continued into the era of ‘professional’ policing, restricting all officers to being no shorter than six feet. This was only loosened by some forces in the 1960s.

As capitalist industries expanded, the need for larger labour forces arose and rural workers would move into the expanding cities to join these growing industries – not always by choice, but by necessity, as these growing industries replaced older trades and skills.

The population in these industrial towns was increasing rapidly as industries grew larger. The need for labour and a reserve army of labour grew alongside this. These old feudal-style constables were there to keep the workers in line and, in the case of Ireland, they were used to oppress Britain’s then colonial subjects.

In the early 1800s, Liverpool had a population of 250,000. Many workers would move to the region to work on the ever-expanding docks and would find residence in the working class areas on the outskirts of the city. The first professional police force that was created in Liverpool were tasked only to work around the docks. The rest of the region, where the workers lived, was still dealt with by Watchmen and parish constables.Understanding the birth of British policing is how we realise what their true purpose is. The large amount of police and ‘cop’ shows on the television will have you believe they spend their whole day catching bad guys and saving innocent children. If they were truly employed to catch criminals, then the prisons would be bulging with the ruling classes, but sadly they are not. They are employed to serve the interests of the ruling class. They serve the State, and the State interest is the perpetuation of British capitalism.

The first professional police force was used to protect the private property of the capitalists. That’s why the paid police forces that Parliament created were all in places of large industry (the example of Liverpool only having a police force to protect the docks). It should come as no surprise that Sir Robert Peel, known as the godfather of modern policing, was the first Prime Minister to come from the newly-formed capitalist classes and not of past feudal lords. Robert Peel was from a family of wealthy textiles owners having a large stake in British industry. Being of industry, Sir Robert Peel understood that controlling the mass of labour is vital for their industry to profit.

The professional police force only came into existence in the 1800s. These professional modern British police forces are accredited to former Prime Minister Robert Peel, which he formed while serving one of his two terms as Home Secretary. The still surviving nick name ‘Bobbies’ comes from these forces being Robert Peel’s creation. The first fully professional force was created in 1829, with the Metropolitan Police Act forming police forces in areas of London, including Westminster.

As these forces grew, they would usually be formed from the aforementioned Watchmen in the industrial towns. There were also forces created in parts of British-ruled Ireland to enforce that rule.

The first national British police force was created in British-ruled Ireland in 1837, with the much-hated Royal Irish Constabulary that was used to quell any revolt of the native Irish. It wasn’t until nearly a hundred years later that English policing become fully national. In 1857, an Act was passed that required all police to be paid by central Government, but it wasn’t until the Police Act 1946 that merged all the smaller forces into one. This act actually cut the police forces from 47 to 20 in all the home countries.

It can be argued that police are workers, which is correct. If you sell your labour for a wage, then you are a wage labourer and a worker within the capitalist system, but these ‘workers’ have taken the mantle of being the first line of armed defence for the ruling class against the masses. Anyone who has been on a picket line or a protest that has been deemed unlawful will understand how the Police will always take the side of the bosses to oppress any worker’s struggle. We all know how the laws are created and interpreted in a way that best enables the police to control the masses.

One of the more insidious laws of the past was the Poor Law 1834. Enacted alongside the professionalisation of constabularies, this ‘law’ made it an arrestable offence to not be a worker in local industries. This was apparently created to incentivise people to work hard to support themselves. If you didn’t take work in the local factory, mine or dock, your fate would be either your imprisonment or being put into a workhouse, where you would be put to work in squalid conditions and encouraged to work harder with a whip.

The police have been the first line of defence of the ruling class. As each law is passed to further oppress working class people, so it is the police who will be charged with enforcing them. As the events of 25th November should remind us, there are often occasions where the police officers themselves do not fully understand why they are called upon to enforce these laws.

The Police may earn similar wages to other workers, live in similar neighbourhoods and frequent the same establishments. They also sell their labour just like any other workers, but they have also taken that wage at the behest of the ruling class to protect private property, to defend the capitalist State and to control the masses.

They are no friend of the working class.

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