Readers of Street Roots, February 20-26, 2015 edition, will find PNLHA Oregon trustee Norm Diamond “reflecting on the Portland police union” in conversation with Martha Gies, a Portland writer and regular contributor to the weekly paper.
Police violence has captured much public attention of late, attracting strong criticism in the aftermath of events in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere. As a result, police unions have been called to account as well as to defend their members’ rights.
The discussion focused partly on the Portland Police Association (PPA) and its predecessors going back to 1870. Initially they were affiliated to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), but they didn’t sign their first contract until 1970.
“My experience with unions composed of police officers is that they’re ambiguous institutions,” said Diamond, a labor historian and former president of Pacific Northwest Labor College. They share “much in common with many other unions and yet [are] decidedly different.”
For Diamond, who began working with unions at age 15 when he worked at the United Automobile Workers’ Solidarity House in Detroit, “the problem goes well beyond a labor contract or a few bad apples. Police departments were created and exist to maintain a society that itself has issues of racism (and exploitation and unfairness).
“The discussion we need to have is about the kind of policing we’d like to have, the responsibility and oversight of police, and ultimately, the kind of society we’d like to live in,” Diamond concluded.
Street Roots is dedicated to creating “income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty” and to acting as a “catalyst for individual and social change.” Editions appear Friday in 120 locations around the world.
To read the full article:
A brief history of police unions in Canada
“In ten major Canadian cities [Trades and Labour Congress]-affiliated police activists organized unions that year . In Ontario the provincial government set up a Royal Commission to consider the question of police unionism.
“Only in Ottawa did city officials quell the dissent by firing almost one-third of the force. In Toronto, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saint John, Montreal, and Quebec, serious struggles over the question of police unionism occurred, but trade union rights won out.
“In Toronto, for example, Police Magistrate Dennison remembered that during the 1886 street railway strike law and order prevailed only because ‘Our police force was able to keep them down.’ ‘If they had been in a union,’ he concluded, ‘I don’t suppose they would have been able to do such good work.’ Nevertheless, Toronto Police FLU No. 68 gained initial recognition after a successful strike to protest the firing of 11 union leaders.
“Meanwhile, in Montreal a common front of some 1,500 firemen and policemen struck in December. They gained victory in the aftermath of a night of rioting in which volunteer strikebreakers were beaten and fire stations were occupied by crowds supporting the strikers.
“In Vancouver the threat of a general strike after the firing of four police union leaders led to an ignominious surrender by the Chief Constable.
“But it was in Saint John, New Brunswick, that the degree of labour solidarity with these efforts found its most profound expression. The firing of half the force for joining a union led to a city-wide campaign organized by the labour movement to recall the police commissioners guilty of the victimization of the police unionists. The success of the recall campaign resulted in a new election in which the anti-union commissioners were defeated.”
Source: Gregory S. Kealey, Workers and Canadian History (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queens Press, 1995).