Friday, November 22, 2013

Cops against cops: class war within the state violence structures

By accident I arrived at the Police demonstration in Sao Bento yesterday. - By accident I stress, before being accused of other activists of being a supporter of corporatist police rights. - A very
remarkable experience, and a clarifying one about the experience of police forces and democracy. Ten thousand public security officers, including police-agents and GNR, had organized the biggest demonstration in their history against the new salary cuts in the 2014 budget. At the end the gathered down the steps of Sao Bento; a little bit a weird sight, as I am used to see them at the other side of the barricades at that place. On the place developed a weird atmosphere; there was the usual outrage with the Passos Coelho government, there were the usual slogans, such as the Dockers' inspired "Passos, escuta; és um filho da puta".

Down the stairs policemen from both sides seemed to engage in minor physic confrontations and some protestors - inspired by the dockers union again - threw small bombs on the stairs. The animosity raised, and the crowd began to shout "invasão, invasão", a few minutes later the crush barriers went down. Then they stopped however, just as the young protestors had done several times during the past years. Though the way was free and the cops in service weren't near enough to hold the stairs, the protestors hesitated; it seemed hard to cross the symbolic line of the norm, to engage in civil disobedience, even if there was no chance the working security agents could have hold them. Even when after a few minutes some protesting police agents had the courage to mount the grass before the parliament, and called for their colleagues to join; people stayed hesitating. It seemed to take hours before they finally joined slowly, and there began a sort of storming in Sao Bento.

During these moments one could hear some interesting conversations. Some protestors were commenting on how weird it felt to stand on the other side of the barricades. While they could imagine the situation of their colleagues in service which were now standing against them, they now also felt a certain sense of hopelessness standing in front of the power structure, with the robocop-colleagues in the first line. This was also present in the mobilization for this demo. The ASPP-PSP police trade-union flyer mobilizing for the demonstration showed a picture of an agent on the parliament stairs - from the position of the agents, facing other civilian demonstrators with the text: "Até quando vias estar calado?/Untill when are you going to keep quiet?". It appealed not only for a mobilization against the 2014 budget and the successive pay cuts, but also for "professional dignity" and "security for the citizens". The class struggle and social conflict has clearly divided the police-force between their lives in service and their lives outside.

While there were some confrontations, it was clear that the role of the working Cops also was different than usual, as these officers also identified with the protestors. This probably was part of the reason why the robocops never organized a massive attack on the protestors, as they did in the general strike of last year. Another reason of course is that they could be very sure that these kind of protestors would not flee, and that if one of them would be attacked, the whole crowd would have certainly led a full-fledged invasion of the parliament. And that is without even taking into account that a lot of the protestors would probably have been armed, considering their professions.

Within this confrontation also two different visions on "democracy" and "Portugal" emerged on the two sides of the barricades. Protestors several times shouted for the fall of the government and sang the national anthem; shouting that the government and members of parliament were traitors of the country. They accused them of attacking their own people, of corruption, and of policy-making against the interests of their people; they saw themselves as legitimate representatives of the people and of the nation. The agents in service on the other hand were following orders of the state, they were defending the body of people's representation and the sovereignty of the country; against the invasion of police-forces, a coup-like measure. While this divisions have become clear in the recent protest waves. The demonstration of the police forces has clarified it a lote, as it were basicly the same people on both sides of the barricades. The only difference between them was their temporary role as executioners of legitimate state violence or not.

The whole thing ended after a stand-off at the top o the parliament stairs. The working cops had barricaded the entrance with 4 lines of guards. The protestors just stood there but did nothing more. They had just demonstrated that "if they wanted they could have entered"; as a warning to the government, but they did not. Still something withheld them from entering; after some pictures, as trophies of the stairs they conquered all went home.

This demo has been important for several reasons. First of all because of an identification of the police with the position of the anti-austerity protestors. Second, because it showed that the government is losing its legitimacy of its own security forces; this is particularly important because the whole state repression apparatuses is ultimately build upon these forces. Third, because it created a "dangerous" precedent against the "norm" of not crossing the security perimeter and "taking the stairs". Some dangers also remain; while it is positive that the protesting police-men identifies with the protestors, they clearly showed a corporatist attitude to their working colleagues using the slogans of "A policia unida jamais será vencida". While echoing the usual working class slogan, it nevertheless showed their special statute in the oppressive state and their possibility for corruption. Government concessions, as were apparent in the police-action during the parliamentary session two weeks ago, could easily lead to their co-option in government policies, turning the situation a step further in the direction of a police-state.

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