I was once a member of the Police Federation. This was not by choice, other than that I had chosen to be a police officer, and I couldn’t do that without being in the Federation. I don’t remember feeling any huge benefit from being in the Federation, and remember colleagues who thought it was only really there to help officers seeking sickness pensions, and that this role has largely gone in the time since then. I contributed to an insurance scheme they arranged in case any of us were sued, and I now know there were lots of things they did of which I was unaware at the time, but I neither engaged with it, nor was motivated to protest being forced to be part of it.
For most people, that may not seem unusual, but not being motivated was a big deal for me. Immediately prior to being a police officer, I had spent 3 years at university as a student, and therefore as a member of the National Union of Students. Again, no choice, but in that role I kicked off merrily, protesting about the enforced membership of a pretend trade union, gathering signatures against this closed shop, etc.
I did not protest the Federation membership because I did not see it as a Trades Union, or as a body likely to take some collectivist philosophy to heart and begin to act as a political body. It was instead a Staff Association, there to represent me and other bobbies to senior management and whoever else required such representations.
So I worry when I hear bobbies today, including some attached to the Federation, making noises that seem excessively political. Should the Federation endorse PCC candidates? What would PCC candidates be inclined to do to acquire such an endorsement? Can bobbies have the right to strike? All that sort of stuff.
I understand that it’s a response to the Winsor report, and things like the removal or reform of some negotiating bodies, and the introduction of compulsory redundancy, which makes police officers feel that they are being put in the same position as employees, but without the rights of employees. I sympathise with them on some of this. I also think it is exacerbated by some of my fellow right-wingers calling Fed reps ‘shop stewards’ and the Federation “the police union” and the like.
But I also remember being a Local Government Officer, and for 12 years refusing to be a member of a union, and negotiating my own salary and terms with a series of councils with, in my opinion, far more success than the unions ever did. When they had a strike, often about not having enough pay, their members lost even more pay, and the strikes rarely seemed effective. In fact, when given a choice, roughly two-thirds of staff voted with their feet and, like me, didn’t join a union, which they clearly thought did not justify the subs they would have to pay to be in it.
Do people really want the federation to become a union, or a political body?
Here are some of the issues it raises.
- If it’s a union, officers should be free to not join it or any other union.
- If it’s a union, the cost of it should be borne by its members, without subsidy in the form of officer salaries for the reps and their time. Such subsidy in the form of union “pilgrims” does take place in other professions, but is slowly being tackled.
- If it’s a union, officers should have a right to take their membership and funding to a different union, whether one that already exists, or one that they choose to establish themselves.
- If it’s a union, officers should be able to opt out of contribution to any political activity of the union.
I don’t think this is a road the Federation really would be wise to go down, and I am further worried that individual officers, in opposing various reforms to policing, are allowing themselves to be drawn into a wider opposition to the current government on issues nothing to do with policing, which looks awfully political to me. A Labour-aligned Federation, whether it was the case formally or informally, could never have represented me in my years as a police officer, and I suspect this would also still be the case for many other officers.