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Readers Respond to Portside Posts on Police, Police Unions and the Labor Movement

Recent Portside posts have explored different sides of the repressive role of the police and whether or not police unions as they are constituted should remain within the labor movement. Here Portside readers respond.

Nearly every so-called race riot in the United States since 1935 has been sparked by a police incident. Police, because they interact in black communities every day, are often seen as the face of larger systems of inequality in the justice system, ,employment, education, and housing. Photo: StockSnap

Recent Portside posts, to which readers are responding include:


Re: The Central Issue Is Police Repression, Not Police Unions

(Posting on Portside Labor)

I have a number of serious concerns about Bill Fletcher's article, some of which I will try to address.

There is no inherent contradiction between reigning in the outsized influence of police unions and addressing the larger role of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. Taking one major step does not preclude taking another; indeed, one often leads to the other. 

However, to decry specific radical reforms until the broader movement has come to grips with this more advanced understanding is to provide excuses for inaction. The central issue for all of us, including the trade union movement, is what immediate concrete steps can we take at this time to prevent the police from killing and abusing Black and other people of color, gay and transgender people, journalists, strikers, protesters, the mentally ill, and the homeless. 

One can agree with Mr. Fletcher that "the history, culture and practices of the U.S. law enforcement system are the problem," and still target police unions, precisely for their crucial role in resisting any change in this culture and practice. 

Indeed, Mr. Fletcher doesn't acknowledge that other police departments under capitalism don't kill like US police, just like other prison systems under capitalism don't incarcerate like the US prison system. And police and prison guard unions play a unique and massive role in perpetuating this US exceptionalism.

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It appears Mr. Fletcher greatly underestimates the role of many, even most police unions. 
It is simply not the case that "law enforcement unions frequently add to the problem." Police unions serve as the major bulwark against police reform, and along with prison guards unions play a major political role in advancing mass incarceration, militarized policing, and distorted state and local budgets. With the support of reactionary politicians, and the acquiescence of trembling centrist elected officials, the police unions have successfully occupied all the municipal space for non-repressive crisis response. Mental health, housing, homeless, and public health interventions, are all subservient to the massive spending on police personnel, their weapons and their tools.  And this greatly undermines other public sector unions.

Nor is it, as Fletcher asserts, collective bargaining agreements with unions that are most responsible for "restricting the disciplining of police for abusive behavior." Many police unions actively resist key aspects of such agreements, while undermining federal court orders, consent decrees, state laws and local administrative actions, such as civilian review, designed to ensure constitutional policing. Many jurisdictions report massive non-compliance with use of force and de-escalation policies, and simple reforms such as those requiring police officers to turn on their video cameras. False reporting, and planting and hiding evidence is rampant. This illegal non-compliance is supported and even encouraged by police officers' unions, and ignored by elected officials fearful of police union backlash. 

"Deprivation of rights under the color of law" is a crime, and this flagrant resistance to the constitution, state and federal laws, consent decrees, collective bargaining agreements, administrative actions taken through meet and confer, and civil codes, can legitimately suggest some police officers unions are run like criminal enterprises. 

No one is arguing that police don't have the right to organize, but it does appear that some defenders of police unions are arguing that labor councils and federations don't have a right to establish principled standards for their membership. Was the left and progressive movement wrong for demanding racial and gender exclusive unions had no place in the AFL-CIO?

As Mr. Fletcher acknowledges, "The labor movement does not need to accept all unions." But he appears to believe action against the police unions at this time would be precipitous. But we have not chosen this time, the time has chosen us. And all sectors of society are being called upon to reassess their relationship to the police and those who represent them.

The June 4 King County Labor Coalition's decision regarding the Seattle Police Officers Guild was not a rush to judgment but a long overdue and reasonable assertion of its responsibility to its members to uphold its founding principles of worker solidarity, and to combat racism, sexism, and LGBT discrimination, which divide the labor movement and the class.

The King County Labor Coalition should be lauded for its decision that the Seattle Police Officers Guild "must state that racism is an issue in law enforcement and within its own organization. The union must participate in workgroups focused on addressing racism in the union. It must commit to police contracts that do not evade accountability. And there must be consequences when professional standards are not followed and harm is done."

More actions like these are necessary in this period. How else will the embattled trade union movement build support among those communities most victimized by police murder and abuse as well as the multiracial working class youth who have risen up in historic numbers and scope to demand an end to this injustice? They are all asking organized labor, "Which side are you on?"

Mark Allen


Finally, a nuanced analysis about police unions that ought to inform what should come next. I recommend this important read by Bill Fletcher, Jr. Most police unions across the country have been functioning as failed, co-opted enterprises for years, headed by far-right misleaders and tolerated by their members who see no channels for reform, in no small part because police departments themselves have set the standard for rampant racism and unaccountability. It is no accident that police unions are currently in the thrall of Trump. They do not now, nor have they functioned as traditional labor unions for as long as I've been aware, and perhaps never have. But I don't think we should move forward in knee-jerk reaction without fully considering the historical and political context that brought us to this place, which requires the kind of action that leads to real solutions.

Elena Marcheschi
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


Bill Fletcher asks, "What should the role of law enforcement be in a truly democratic society? " Should we focus on cop unions or unabating misconduct of a violently racist character? Of course they're interrelated, but exactly how? Here's a point I would add.

In the present day, particularly since the heyday of civil rights and black power, PDs have been a focal point for infiltration by organized, political fascists. Not garden variety bigots, but confirmed believers that race war is inevitable, and white police have a "vanguard" role in making sure the "white side" wins, and the sooner the better. If this mirrors the thinking of revolutionary nationalists and "third world marxists" of the 70s, that's not a coincidence. And police unions have become an hq for this mission, quite naturally.

True, "U.S. law enforcement has its origins in slave patrols and colonial militias, quasi-military outfits that were, respectively, aimed at suppressing slaves and eliminating Native Americans." That can't be simply reformed. Capital needs a state. Further, police unions (and PDs) have a more complicated relationship to working people than just a bunch of hired chop-busters and terror gangs.

Taking the problem on politically involves uncovering how nazis in blue, and uniformed racketeers (protection, theft, contraband, graft), both use the code of silence and the threat of reprisal to hold the public - and actual public-spirited officers - in subjugation. Short of abolishing PDs, the fash and the rackets must be exposed, expelled and where possible, prosecuted.

These antisocial elements are the political heart of the problem of police reform. Most police unions are political strongholds for these elements.

Ethan Young
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


All Union locals have parochial interests and PBA's use collective bargaining and due process rights in ways that criminalize rather than professionalize their members. Legislative action can supersede when marchers in the street give politicians the will to act. The process of bargaining, due process and contractual rights need to be protected for all. Keeping nazi racketeers out before they get in and kicking them out if they're in...

Steve A Greenfield
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


As always, during crisis, solutions are slipped in to derail the process of getting to the fundamentals of the problem.

Tina Shannon
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


This is a weak, incoherent argument. The problem is bigger than police unions, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be confronted and weakened whenever and wherever possible.

John Tarleton
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


As often, Fletcher strains mightily and comes up with a mouse.

Time to expel these racist, murderers and strike breakers from our midst.

David Berger
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


I often find the words and actions of police union leaders to be abhorrent. And while they speak for the union as an organization their words seldom if ever speak for the majority of their members. There is s culture that develops within each bargaining unit. Unfortunately in far to many police units that culture has develop that it is always the union's job to aggressively support their members accused of brutality and misconduct. Consequently when there is a police officers involved in a shooting death of a citizen the police union representative immediately step into the light and protects their member and tries to cover-up the actions by talking about how dangerous their work is and how officers have to make split second decisions when they feel their life is threatened.

But the union is only doing its job. The collective bargaining agreements are negotiated with the employer. All the protections afforded an officer have been agreed to by the employer, or in some instances a city, county or state statute. These elected officials have refused to stand up to the unions and have conceded in bargaining to all the super protections provided by the contracts. The culture has been developed because the employer has completely yielded their responsibilities to protect citizens by agreeing to language that provides for an officer involved in a deadly shooting to be placed on a paid suspension until all the evidence is reviewed even if there is clear video of the shooting. Cities and other law enforcement employer must stand up to police unions, in bargaining. Eliminating union members rights to bargain on wages, benefits, health and safety, seniority, conditions of employment. The bargaining process can be used effectively if the employer is not, as they are now, afraid of the police union and their political power.

Yes there is a police union problem. But eliminating police unions and workers rights to collectively bargain is not the way to solve it.

That will not resolve the issues of police violence. It will not end systemic racism. Bad power crazy and racist cops will not disappear. There are many more reforms needed but eliminating police unions is not the answer either.


Bill Moberly
Posted on Portside's Facebook page


I find it interesting that some people are just blaming the police unions when collective bargaining is a two way street. Cities, Counties and States can refuse to agree to some of these arbitration and discipline clauses as well as residency rules. The government negotiators choose to agree usually to keep wages down instead of taxing big business and corporate tax exempts but it's always easier to blame the workers.

I also agree with the point that there is a distinction between labor organizations and the Labor Movement

John Meyerson
Posted on Portside's Facebook page

Re: It's Time to Kick Police Unions Out of the Labor Movement. They Aren't Allies

(posting on Portside Labor)

I think that this rhetoric plays right into the republican plans to rid the country, once and for all, of labor unions.  That will be a disaster for all health care workers, Public employees and most underpaid, though certainly not all, workers.  It will be another boon to the greedy rich, however.

Would it not be a better idea, despite our recent spate of hatred toward our gov't, as the wingers have taught us, to reinstitute regulations, the NLRB, oversight and OSHA and other departments?

Gail Joseph


Maya Dukmasova writes in the Chicago Reader:

"Local labor leaders who spoke to the Reader were generally evasive when it came to talking about the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Some in the labor movement have been wary to speak out against police unions for fear of feeding into broader anti-union sentiment that threatens public-sector collective bargaining rights as a whole. There's also the issue of culture inside labor unions, whose members (especially those in the Chicago public sector and those in the trades) often have family and neighborhood ties to cops. 

"I've never seen the police stand in solidarity with striking workers, but I have seen them stand in solidarity with white supremacists to protest [Cook County state's attorney] Kim Foxx," said Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of SEIU Local 1, who emphasized he was only sharing his opinion as a member of the local and not as the voice of leadership. The union represents 35,000 public-sector workers in Chicagoland, mostly janitors, security guards, and doormen. "The FOP has always been seen as a far-right, reactionary organization," Morrison said, "I can't think of any union in Chicago that would defend a member who committed murder on the job. Not only did the FOP defend [Jason] Van Dyke, they gave him a job. They used union dues to give him a job. They don't behave like a union."

Read it all at

Michael Munk


Keep it up. Maybe the bosses will listen and then privatize the police.

Saul Schniderman


As much as I have always supported labor unions, but in this case with the police dept, these "unions" should be banned. They defend too many policemen even when they know that they are totally wrong. And that's a fact!

Bob Feb
Posted on Portside's Facebook page

Re: White U.S. Police Union Bosses Protect Officers Accused of Racism

(posting on Portside)

I think the phrase "union bosses" is a capitalist anti-worker phrase.

Richard J. Lorenz