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It must have been a strange sight in London on Thursday when uniformed police officers ushered upward of 35,000 of their off-duty colleagues from across the U.K. through the streets during a protest against cuts that could leave 16,000 police members across the country without jobs.
The cops are almost always on the other side of the protest line, keeping the peace in the name of business, political and public interests. The British don’t have to look far into their history for examples of major clashes between police and the striking public. Aside from the student protests of the past few years, many recall the miners’ strike of 1984-85, which was held in response to the government’s intention to close 20 mines, leaving 20,000 workers without income and many communities in the north of England, Scotland and Wales without their primary source of employment. Officers were brought in from all over the country to quell a strike at a plant in Orgreave. Reports tell of constant intimidation and unprovoked charges by police with riot shields and officers on horseback.
In the streets Thursday, thousands of other demonstrators, many of them public workers, marched against austerity cuts to their own divisions and assorted social services. Some recalled the “Battle of Orgreave” and did not receive the police well. “Remember what you lot did to the miners!” shouted one man.
With that history in mind, British police officers are now seeing their livelihoods threatened in the same manner as those whom they have the responsibility of policing. And in their own, orderly fashion, they are speaking up. Thousands of officers donned black baseball caps to represent each job that might be lost. According to one man’s tweet, it was “the quietest demo ever.” The column made its way past government buildings in central London, and officers respectfully removed their caps as they passed a war memorial.
“We’re here to show the public how strongly we feel about this,” said one young frontline officer from Surrey, who, like many of those marching, preferred not to give her name. “I don’t think the public realise what we’re going through.” She signed up three years ago to what she thought was a career for life, she said, but with 20% cuts to the policing budget, she was already seeing job losses among her team and fewer chances of promotion.
One has to wonder what members of the British government are thinking when they decide to solve budget shortfalls by damaging the livelihoods of those who protect officials and others against a public increasingly agitated by austerity measures. If 16,000 police officers lose their jobs and many more are made to feel professionally insecure, we can bet on members of the police force asking themselves in earnest on which side of the picket line they belong. For putting their boots on the street in defense of public workers, we honor those who marched Thursday as our Truthdiggers of the Week.
—Alexander Reed Kelly
The off-duty marchers wore black baseball caps that read “Cutting police by 20% is criminal.”