Sunday, October 21, 2007

POA: Please Let Us Baton Teenagers

The Prison Officers' Association, having recently put other union leaderships to shame with its confrontation of the anti-union laws, is now showing its more reactionary side, apparently calling for its members to be allowed to use batons against inmates as young as 15.

I won't deny that there is probably a serious problem of violence in Young Offenders Institutions, nor that prison officers can be genuinely fearful for their well-being. But there are dozens of demands that the POA could make that are less brutal and more effective than batons. There is a serious problem of assaults against frontline London Underground staff, but no way on earth would I as a union rep demand that our members be armed!

POA leaders often make quite socially-progressive comments about the social control issue eg. "90% of prisoners should be in the care of the health service not the prison service". But while that might sound good from platforms, it doesn't seem to translate into progressive rather than reactionary demands over immediate workplace issues.

A union for prison officers is naturally going to be something of a contradictory beast, pulled between its two natures as a genuine workers' organisation and an organisation of people engaged in authoritarian social control. I guess that socialists need to encourage the former and challenge the implications of the latter.

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