I used to be naive. My first few encounters with South Wales Police, I thought, "they're not that bad, as police forces go". Over the course of my time in Cardiff, cautious optimism toward the local police has been replaced with disappointed anger; the police, I've learned, will protect us when it serves the state's interest, not the community's.
My first dealing with South Wales Police was indirect, in 2006. I was on the executive of my local Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) branch, and Gwent Police, which polices Newport, had just brought in a new rule for dealing with violence in pubs: no glasses and no glass bottles in Newport city centre, a blanket ban. I found this draconian — a pint glass should be a pint glass, for god's sake — so I lauded South Wales Police for their more sensible traffic light policy, which involved discussions with the pubs and second chances.
My next series of encounters was also generally positive: where I used to live in Richmond Road there were a number of burglaries, the result of an ex-resident with a substance abuse problem repeatedly trying to break in to steal the new tenants' possessions. South Wales Police responded promptly and professionally each time we called them.
Under the new red illumination all around me, though, gaping defects become apparent in the superstructure of the police. I simply hadn't been really politically active before April 2009, but since I've taken up the placard and the megaphone every encounter with the police looks successively closer to being a run-in. Some of you may be veterans of far worse of the wrong end of the police; forgive my naiveté.
Glyn and Tom have already talked about the English Defence League (EDL) demonstration on the day and its political consequences. I can talk a little about the lead-up and the aftermath.
The first time the words "Cardiff Communities Against Racism" appeared on paper was in a motion I submitted to the Cardiff Uni Students' Union student council1 affiliating CUSU to the CCAR and obligating the Students' Union to take part in the anti-EDL response. I'm proud to say the motion went through unanimously. CUSU is an active, long-time and generally cooperative part of PACT in Cathays, and as such the police would sometimes tell the Union things they wouldn't have told anti-fascism organisers. For example, during one meeting with the Union, South Wales Police told us the route the EDL's march through the city would take: east from the Museum, toward Adam Street, past the prison and the Vulcan Hotel.
When I asked again a week later for more details of the march route I was told there had been a misunderstanding, there was no march planned. It still annoys me that I didn't make more of this than I did at the time.
All those weeks when South Wales Police were telling us the event was a standing demo outside the Museum? All those weeks when we were building and mobilising for an event where the climax would be our counterdemonstration against a standing crowd of EDL who, we were assured, would not march through our city? We were being misled. In all likelihood, the police plan was for an EDL march all along. If CCAR, the Socialists, the anarchists and the people of this city hadn't been so willing to act and so able to act in a coordinated fashion on the fly, the English Defence League would have marched unopposed and committed a premeditated act of violent intimidation against the students and workers of Adamsdown, and South Wales Police would have been complicit in that act of state-assisted terror.
We often hear in the anti-fascist left the story of the Battle of Cable Street, where anti-fascists and local residents directly and physically resisted an attempted march by the British Union of Fascists through a heavily Jewish area of London. What the more pro-state members of the anti-fascist movement — it is questionable in this light whether these can properly be called part of the "left" anti-fascist movement — tend to leave out is that Cable Street was primarily not a physical confrontation between anti-fascists and fascists but rather between anti-fascists and police escorting the march. When the police line was broken, the fascists, who like nothing less than a fair fight, broke and ran. We would do wise to remember this tidbit in the times ahead.
Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Leanne Wood has already objected to the South Wales Police response on June the 5th itself, including officially in the Assembly. The aftermath, though, rattles on.
South Wales Police claim that the policing operation for the EDL demostration and the counterdemonstration, "Operation Phoenix", cost £250,000. The Guardian has rightly been pursuing this claim (and if South Wales Police didn't want to spend the cash, couldn't they have just declined the EDL's demo permit in the first place?). So how did South Wales Police spend the quarter of a million pounds?
They just won't tell us. The police response to the freedom of information request (PDF; references to "SWP" mean South Wales Police, not Socialist Workers Party) accounts for less than £11,000 (about 4%) of the money South Wales Police claim to have spent. I have a guess as to some of the rest: people CCAR talked to on stalls and at meetings claimed, independently, that youth in Grangetown, Adamsdown and Splott were being paid by police to stay home from the demonstration.
Still, it's entirely reasonable, given the history thus far with the EDL demonstration, to consider that the police are simply lying, and using the £250,000 expenses figure to deflect meaningful criticism of the pro-EDL stance they took in the lead up to the demonstration and on the day itself.
We on the left should never expect the police to be on our side; crime is defined as an attack on the state thus, as opponents of the state, the left are by definition a criminal element2. We collide head-on with the fallacy of composition: while individual police officer are generally dependent on selling their labour-power to survive and, therefore, formally members of the working class, the police as police are an archetypally bourgeois organisation, dedicated to preserving bourgeois dictatorship, its members subsuming their will to a hierarchy and pledge to take up arms against the working class either organised or scattered. While the police as a body can play a revolutionary role, it is generally an opportunistic one. Meanwhile, when we encounter a developed, moderated fascist or quasi-fascist organisation (Paxton's "stage two", as the BNP now is) that organisation will itself be taking up a role as a defender of the state and the class order in general. The police and far-right organisations will, in the fullness of time, find themselves to consistently have more in common with each other than with the left in any class-driven conflict.
So why are the police sometimes helpful? Consider the cases above. When they came to my flat to chase down a burglar, they were acting in their immediate mission: the preservation of property rights. When they found common ground with CAMRA, they were among friends: a bourgeois organisation making accord with a bourgeois organisation (CAMRA has Trotskyist roots but is thoroughly middle-class today; pub tenants may be workers3 but the pub owning companies definitely are not). The police will help the average person when their interests coincide: reinforcement of the state, reinforcement of confidence in the state, and indeed reinforcement of the police within the state. They can afford to appear mangnanimous when the deeper victory, the victory of the bourgeois order, is already assured.
When it comes to a choice between the workers united or the workers divided, as it did in Cable Street and at half a dozen UAF-EDL demonstrations and as it did on June the 5th in Cardiff, the police will take a side — and it isn't ours.
1: "No to Racist Protest in Cardiff", 20/4/2010, moved by me, seconded by Sam Coates. I'll take a second here to respond to a story that certain members of Unite Against Fascism have been putting out, specifically, that CCAR was set up in order to undercut UAF's involvement in organising in the Students' Union. Both Sam Coates & I attended the first UAF meeting about the EDL demo on 8 April in Transport House, we identified ourselves as Cardiff University Students' Union executive members and signed up to help build the network and mobilise against the EDL. We waited a week and heard nothing from UAF, nor were we ever invited to subsequent organisational meetings. I raised the EDL demo in Cardiff at the UAF fringe meeting at NUS National Conference on 14 April, which Weyman Bennett attended, and UAF still did nothing in response. It wasn't until 4 May, at my invitation, that UAF made any attempt to liaise with the Students' Union, and even then they declined the opportunity to speak at the Student Council meeting!
2: "while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." — Eugene V. Debs
3: Isn't it hilarious that the GMB chooses this, of all campaigns, to finally bring out revolutionary rhetoric after all these years?