Brian Pearce

Constant Reader:

The Blue Lamp Flickers

(October 1958)

From The Newsletter, 4 October 1958.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

The appalling news that, in protest against ‘petty discipline’, policemen in London’s West End have been taking unauthorized tea-breaks and failing to bring street-walkers to the court to pay their monthly tax has undoubtedly recalled to official memory the great London police strike of 1918.

On that historic occasion, while the first world war was still in progress, practically the entire Metropolitan Police Force, then about 12,000 men, left their beats.

Several thousands marched from New Scotland Yard, to Tower Hill in columns of four, half a mile long, headed by a piper. Even the police at Buckingham Palace took part.

The Prime Minister hastily intervened to grant wage increases and a pension for widows. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner resigned. The men went back to their beats.

But the authorities were determined not to recognize anything like a police trade union, and after a while began dismissing alleged ringleaders for ‘breaches of discipline’, combining this procedure with further concessions on pay; until they had so weakened and isolated the militants that they were able to get away with a Bill prohibiting policemen from belonging to a union.

None of the successive Labour Governments interested itself in ensuring trade union rights for policemen. Pay increases, yes – even when other workers were being rebuffed; but strictly on the initiative and by the grace of the authorities.

A well-documented account of the police strikes of 1918 and 1919 and the breaking of the Police Union appears in the current (August 1958) issue of the Economic History Review, from the pen of V.L. Allen, who wrote Power in Trade Unions and Trade Union Leadership.

He notes the role played by ‘many Labour politicians and trade union leaders’ who ‘believed it was inimical to the interests of internal security to give policemen the same freedom of association as was claimed as a right by industrial workers’.

A flunkey too fervent

The peculiar enthusiasm shown by certain of our Labour leaders, when in Ministerial office, in the performance of the Court functions attached to their jobs, has long been a theme for ironical comment in what are called well-informed circles.

A striking example occurs in J.W. Wheeler-Bennett’s life of King George VI, now being serialized in the Daily Telegraph.

He tells how J.R. Clynes, Home Secretary in the second Labour Government, spent sixteen days at Glamis Castle waiting for Princess Margaret to be born.

‘By some oversight and miscalculation’, the biographer writes, the doctors had told Clynes ‘that his presence would be required early in August. Instead of awaiting a more definite summons, he arrived in an excess of zeal on August 5, to find himself decidedly premature.

He stayed there until the little girl arrived on August 21. Somehow or other the affairs of the Home Office continued to be dealt with as smoothly as ever while the former gas-workers’ leader kicked his heels in the Scottish baronial hall – waiting to certify, on behalf of Britain’s ruling class, that no ersatz prince or princess had been smuggled into the succession, in a warming-pan or otherwise.

‘Death’ of a nation

A book Kurdistan, Divided Nation of the Middle East has lately been published by Lawrence and Wishart.

What we are not likely to get from the Communist Party’s publishers, however, is a book on Macedonia, Divided Nation of the Balkans – though this was a theme of communist propaganda for many decades.

It is now the party line that ‘Macedonians are Bulgarians’: there is no autonomous regime for the part of Macedonia which is included in Bulgaria, and one of Tito’s major offences seems to be that there is a Macedonian autonomous republic in Yugoslavia.

Last updated on 11.10.2011