Worse, from 1983 to 2002, workers in "protective service occupations" including police officers "had the highest union membership rate of any broad occupation group in every year" (emphasis added, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union Members in 2002," February 25, 2003). The unionization rate of "protective service workers" was 37.0% in 2002 (February 25, 2003).
In 2003, workers in "education, training, and library occupations (37.7 percent)" managed to -- barely -- top "protective service workers (36.1 percent)" in the rate of unionization (Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union Members in 2003," January 21, 2004), but all other groups of workers were still out-organized by cops. For instance, "[n]atural resources, construction, and maintenance workers and production, transportation, and material moving occupations also had higher-than-average union membership rates at 19.2 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively. Among the major occupational groups, sales and office occupations had the lowest unionization rate -- 8.2 percent" (January 21, 2004). The least unionized group in 2003, with the union membership rate of a mere 3.5%, were "farming, fishing, and forestry occupations" (January 21, 2004).
Some may ask, "What's wrong with that? Aren't cops workers, too?" Yes, police officers do work for wages, but the main function of the police under capitalism was and still is to police people for the free market. David Montgomery writes in Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1993): "The United States had opened the franchise to propertyless white males in the northern states between the 1790s and the 1840s, and to black males in the southern states in the 1860s (Montgomery, p. 3), but "the more that active participation in government was opened to the propertyless strata of society, the less capacity elected officials seemed to have to shape the basic contours of social life. Ray Gunn has written of the state of New York that by the 1840s 'the economy was effectively insulated from democratic control'" (footnotes omitted, Montgomery, p. 2). How did the ruling class manage to insulate the economy from democracy? In part by privatizing administration of poor relief and by employing "the coercive power of the police, armed forces, and the judiciary" against workers (Montgomery, p. 2).
The ruling class first made an increasing number of people poor and homeless and then criminalized being poor and homeless as well as being drunk in public -- i.e., they created the charges to which only the working class could be subjected:
[P]olice action against the disorderly and the destitute had long historic roots. During the eighteenth century city authorities had often rounded up people without legal settlement and expelled them before winter set in, in order to keep down the poor rolls. At the turn of the century vagrants were often brought before the magistrates for incarceration by the night watch or by city residents exercising their right to prosecute. . . . By the 1820s, however, the numbers of homeless poor in major cities had reached crisis proportions, and incarceration had replaced expulsion as the favored remedy. In 1822 New York's judges sentenced 450 boys and girls to prison for having no homes -- usually for six months. Philadelphia's magistrates sentenced 1,210 separate individuals in 1826. Priscilla Ferguson Clement has calculated that more "wandering poor" were imprisoned that year in proportion to Philadelphia's population than in any other year of the nineteenth century. Almost half those locked up in the 1820s had been women, and almost half were black. . . .See how criminalization of the poor and privatization of poor relief went hand in hand in the nineteenth century?
The notorious charge, "drunk and disorderly," scourge of the early twentieth-century worker, had made its debut by the 1830s. In addition to the alderman's power to sentence an intoxicated person to twenty-four hours in jail and a fine roughly equal to two days of a laborer's pay, disorderly drinker who could not post $100 to $200 bond to keep the peace could be sentenced to an indefinite incarceration. . . . Disorderly vagrants were confined an average of twenty-two days in 1854. Twenty-one percent of all arrests in Philadelphia in 1856 were on the drunk and disorderly charge, as 29 percent of all arrests in New York had been in 1848, when 4,241 persons had been so imprisoned in only three months.
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Three-fourths of the people arrested by the police in the routine course of their work . . . were charged with some kind of disorderly conduct. . . . Incarceration of disorderly, homeless, and begging men and women was encouraged by developers of prestigious housing and shopping areas, who wished to insulate patrons from disturbance; by store owners, who also summoned city authorities to suppress the competition, cries, and horns of street venders; and by moral reformers seeking to remove prostitutes and transvestites from the streets (in a words, to cleanse "the market" of its medieval attributes). The guiding force behind the quest for more orderly urban life in New York, however, was the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP). . . .
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During the 1850s the AICP . . . appeared before courts to urge appropriate incarceration for destitute individuals. Its agents and those of affiliated charities hired out orphans and other pauper children . . . to private employers, sent them to the West, prevented parents from reclaiming institutionalized children, and during the Civil War enrolled boys in their care into the army and kept half the enlistment bounty. (footnotes omitted, Montgomery, pp. 63-4, 68, 77)
Today, in addition to drunk and disorderly charges, the ruling class have the "war on drugs" as a weapon against the working class, and the police are given direct financial incentives to keep it going:
Consider again the numbers: in the last twenty years the Justice Department's budget grew by 900 percent; over 60 percent of all prisoners are in for non-violent drug crimes; an estimated one-in-three black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine are under some type of criminal justice control or sought on a warrant; nationwide some 6.5 million people are in prison, on parole or probation.It is in this context that higher rates of unionization of "protective service workers" than those of other groups of workers become a problem, for rates of unionization correspond to degrees of political power. Take the California Correctional Peace Officers Association for example. "CCPOA political activity exceeds that of other labor unions. It outspent CTA [California Teachers' Association] in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles with only a tenth of the membership. CCPOA contributions go to both Democrats and Republicans and reach all three branches of government -- Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The CCPOA spends on bread and butter issues as well as on tougher crime legislation" (emphasis added, "Political Power of the CCPOA"). Union men and women as they may be, their political action is at odds with working-class interests. Therefore, a labor movement in which "protective service workers" are better organized than almost all other workers has a big political problem on its hands.
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[T]he buildup really took off with the Federal Crime Bill of 1984. This created the assets forfeiture laws enabling police to keep as much as 90 percent of all the "drug tainted" property they could seize. Nationwide, the total amount of all seizures grew from about $100 million in 1981 to over $1 billion by fiscal year 1987. Thus did the feds entice local police into their plans for total war at home. The next congressional election brought another massive crime bill. Only eighteen lawmakers voted against the catch-all Anti-Drug-Abuse Act of 1986, which imposed twenty-nine new mandatory minimum sentences, among them the notoriously racist disparity in the penalties for crack and for powder cocaine. This bill also shifted official rhetoric from hunting "king pins" to rounding up "users."
The escalating repression hit people of color hardest, and black people hardest of all. In 1980, African Americans made up 12 percent of the nation's population and over 23 percent of all those arrested on drug charges. Ten years later, African Americans were still 12 percent of the total population, but made up more than 40 percent of all people busted for narcotics. Still more remarkable, over 60 percent of all narcotics convictions were (and are) for African Americans. Overall, drug arrests almost doubled in the late eighties: 1985 saw roughly eight hundred thousand people taken down on drug charges; by 1989 that number had shot up to almost 1.4 million. (Christian Parenti, "The 'New' Criminal Justice System: State Repression from 1968 to 2001," Monthly Review 53.3, July/August 2001)