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Wednesday, 12 May 2021 09:10 GMT

Why police unions are not part of the American labor movement


(MENAFN - The Conversation) In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, news reports have suggested that for the .

Critics have assailed these unions for . Derek Chauvin, the former police officer facing , had nearly but only received two letters of reprimand.

Many people who support labor unions in principle, who view them as a countervailing force against the power of employers, have only recently – as entities that .

But this sentiment reverberates through the history of the U.S. labor movement. As a who has for , I think this viewpoint can be explained by the fact that police unions differ fundamentally from almost all trade unions in America.

Foot soldiers for the status quo

For many veterans of the labor movement, of the centuries-old struggle between workers and employers. , police have used their legal authority to protect businesses and private property, enforcing laws viewed by many as anti-union.


Washington State Police use tear gas to disperse a crowd in Seattle on May 30, 2020.

The strain between law enforcement and labor goes back to the origins of . Workers formed unions to fight for wage increases, reduced working hours and humane working conditions.

For employers, this was an attack on the existing societal power structure. They enlisted the government as the defender of capital and property rights, and who defended the status quo.

When workers managed to form unions, companies called on local police to disperse union gatherings, marches and picket lines, using .


Mounted New York City police officers battle with striking members of the International Longshoremen's Association, March 24, 1954. Getty Images A narrow focus

Police work is a fundamentally conservative act. And police officers tend to be politically conservative and Republican.

A poll of police found that 84% of officers intended to vote for Donald Trump that November. And law enforcement unions like the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Union of Police Associations and the National Border Patrol Council .

This contrasts sharply with the 39% share of all and the fact that every other union which made an .


Police surround a protester in Boston, Massachusetts on May 31, 2020.

Exclusively protecting the interests of their members, without consideration for other workers, also sets police unions apart from other labor groups. Yes, the first priority of any union is to fight for their members, but most other unions see that fight in the context of a .

Police unions do not see themselves as . With one exception – the , which represents just – law enforcement unions are not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the U.S. labor body that unites all unions.

Alternative justice system

A central concern with police unions is that they use collective bargaining to negotiate contracts that reduce police transparency and accountability. This allows officers who engage in excessive violence to and remain on the job.

In a way, some police unions have created an that prevents police departments and municipalities from disciplining or discharging officers who have committed crimes against the people they are sworn to serve.

In Minneapolis, residents filed more than against police officers between 2012 and 2020. But only 12 of those grievances resulted in discipline. The most significant .

Besides collective bargaining, police have used the political process – including – to secure local and state legislation that protects their members and quells efforts to provide greater police accountability.

Police officers are a formidable political force because they represent . Candidates endorsed by the police unions can claim they are the law and order candidate. Once these candidates win office, police unions have they support or block those they oppose.

Because of this power, critics claim that police unions don''t feel accountable to the citizens they serve. An attorney who sued the Minneapolis Police Department on behalf of a Black resident who was said that he is convinced that Minneapolis ''officers think they don''t have to abide by their own training and rules when dealing with the public.''

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George Floyd's death has raised serious concerns about the current role of police and police unions in our society. Several unions have demanded that the International Union of Police Associations be expelled from the U.S. labor federation. Other . They argue that the labor movement can have a greater impact on a police union that is inside the ''House of Labor.''

In any case, there is a growing recognition that police unions differ significantly from other unions. And there is a growing acceptance that they are not part of the larger American labor movement but rather a narrowly focused group pursuing their own self-interests, often to the detriment of the nation at large.

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