On Aug. 6, 20,000 RCMP police officers signed an agreement for a hefty 23.7 per cent wage increase. While calls for defunding and abolishing the police across Canada continue out of the Black Lives Matter movement, governments ignore these calls and continue with the status quo. While the RCMP is an oppressive tool of the bosses’ state, if this unionized police force can receive such a hefty wage raise, other unions across Canada should fight for the same or better!
The six-year collective agreement between the Government of Canada and the National Police Federation (NPF) follows legislation passed in 2017 allowing RCMP regular members and reservists to unionize and bargain collectively for the first time ever. In a letter to members, NPF union leadership said: “This collective agreement ends 4.5 years without a raise and an unprecedented 148 years without a negotiated contract.”
The last time police officers had their wages updated was in 2016. Under the RCMP’s 2016 pay scale, first-class constables would each make $86,110, but that rises to $106,576 by next April. A corporal who made $94,292 in 2016 would see their pay rise to $116,703 next year. A staff sergeant will make between $134,912 and $138,657. This means a constable could make up to $20,000 more per year. Constables alone, which represent 11,913 members, would add $238 million to the force’s annual payroll.
The agreement includes a retroactive pay increase going back to 2017. For example, in Moncton, N.B., $3.5 million has been set aside by the local government just to cover retroactive payments for their portion of the RCMP force. The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) estimates the costs for retroactive back pay per RCMP officer were in the range of $45,000 to $55,000. That’s hundreds of millions of back pay per the 20,000 officers. According to AUMA, the retroactive pay “doesn’t include anticipated increases due to excess leave, body armour, body cameras, or pistol modernization”, which means a lot more money will be spent on the forces.
‘But police officers have a dangerous job!’
All this wealth has conveniently appeared at the same time as provincial and federal governments argue for wage freezes and wage increases below the rate of inflation for other workplaces. With inflation hitting 3.4 per cent since April, any wage increase below this amount is functionally a cut in wages. Also, rent inflation hovers at five per cent, housing prices are increasing by about 20 per cent per year and food prices have skyrocketed leaving at least one in eight homes in Canada food insecure. The cost of living is rising due to the crisis of the system. Judging by their pay increase, the RCMP constables and high-ranking officers have nothing to worry about here.
Some argue that “police officers have a dangerous job” and hence they deserve this pay increase. However, this conveniently hides the fact that there are many jobs out there which are as dangerous or even more dangerous, yet do not get close to the same compensation.
What about postal workers who have risked their lives to ensure people receive essential items during the pandemic? Canada Post recently used the pandemic as a bargaining chip to propose a two per cent wage increase against 50,000 members of CUPW. Postal workers start at minimum wage, with the average income barely hitting close to half of what a constable makes.
Nurses’ salaries start as low as $46,800 to an average wage of $71,399, despite the fact that they must undergo far more schooling than a police officer. Fightback has already detailed the hellish working conditions which have sparked a mass exodus of nurses in Canada. With the high workload, stress, injuries, infections and deaths prominent in this field even before the pandemic, employers and various governments continue to put salt in their wounds with wage and job cuts. This past summer, OPSEU nurses in Toronto organized a strike to fight for a mere one per cent wage increase and LIUNA nurses in Sarnia also struck against a wage freeze. In Alberta, the government institutes wage cuts and job losses against 11,000 health care workers, attacking overtime pay, sick leave and other living standards.
Primary school teachers across Canada are in a similar position with salaries as low as $31,100 and average around $70,000. Across Canada, teachers are facing an unprecedented health-care crisis as case numbers start to rise with in-person learning. Custodian salaries start as low as minimum wage, $29,250, to an average not even half of the lowest-ranking RCMP constable even before the force’s 24 per cent pay increase.
Regardless of salaries, teachers’ and custodians’ main demands during the pandemic have been the safety of children and their own lives, in cases where—for example—some governments explicitly withhold funding and others cry wolf about social welfare spending.
The education level of both nurses and teachers are also significantly higher than RCMP police officers. This is not to mention that there are highly skilled workers (with master’s and PhD degrees) who work as custodians, postal workers, etc., forced into lower-paid jobs as the bosses squeeze the job market in favour of cutting costs.
This unfair treatment even finds itself inside the RCMP. The force staffs 20,000 police officers, 3,900 civilians and 6,670 public servants in 700 detachments across the country. However, only the police officers are represented by NPF and are getting this pay raise. For example, CUPE Local 104 represents 1,200 RCMP office staff, both civilians and public servants, who work in telecommunications and other operations to support the police officers. Yet these workers are in the middle of an unjust fight with the federal government over not being paid a 2.3 per cent market adjustment in pay.
During the pandemic hundreds of billions were doled out to big corporations that simply pocket it for their executives and buy back stock options to remain profitable. Now we see hundreds of millions now doled out to the RCMP police officers.
The money is there, the rich are getting it and so are police officers. Therefore, every union must demand the same or better! Unions across the country must immediately demand to know why there is suddenly a 24 per cent wage increase available for RCMP police officers who were already making two to three times the average salary in Canada.
The Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3.3 million unionized workers, must actively combine its efforts with various public and private sector unions across Canada and get its act together. In this process they must organize non-unionized workers to gain more leverage in this fight for parity.
Enough conceding to inflationary wage cuts, if the cops can get a good deal then so should everyone else!
Cops in the labour movement?
The RCMP’s primary purpose in its creation was to destroy Indigenous resistance to colonization in order to force Indigenous peoples onto reserves to clear the way for Canadian capitalism. The predecessor of the RCMP, the North-West Mounted Police, was modelled on the force used to crush resistance in Ireland.
To this day the RCMP is a violent tool of the wealthy elite in Canada and unionization is not going to change this. Recently the force prepared to shoot Indigenous activists, violently organized a raid of Wet’suwet’en land, and violently defended corporate interests at Fairy Creek, B.C. This is not to mention the killings of civilians, sexual assault scandals, the eviction of homeless encampments, and a long list of oppressive methods instituted by the police forces to defend the interests of big business against the working class and poor across Canada.
It is vitally important to understand what the state is under capitalism. We do not see the state as an impartial arbiter standing above society. The fundamental essence of every state, with its armed bodies of people, police, courts and other institutions, is that it serves the interests of one class in society—in the case of capitalism, the capitalist class. As a social force, the RCMP police officers are clearly part of these armed bodies who defend private property of the means of production and the personal wealth of those who hold the lion’s share of it.
Those who say the police are not on our side are correct with regard to the force as a whole. But dialectical materialism teaches us that there can often be a contradiction between the whole and its parts. We have to ask ourselves why the capitalist state as a whole opposed allowing the RCMP to unionize for 148 years.
The reality is that every successful revolutionary movement has been able to paralyze the state and split it along class lines. The ruling class opposed unionization because they demanded complete control over their state forces, with no possibility of fraternization with the broader working class. Unionization opens up the possibility, and only the possibility, of bringing rank-and-file police closer to the working class so they cannot be used when the capitalists really need them.
Some individual police officers, who may have working class families and believe the propaganda of doing good in society, can be won over in periods of heightened struggle. Therefore, we take the approach of opposing the actions of police unions that are at the expense of the wider working class, but supporting those actions that benefit workers and bring rank-and-file police closer to the labour movement. We demand parity between workers and police, and should fight for that parity with class struggle methods.
The simple truth is that the question of the police can never be resolved within the limits of capitalism. To abolish the police, we must end the system of private property of the means of production that makes the police and the state as a whole necessary in the first place.
This is why the fight for better living conditions must be tied to a fight against the wealthy capitalist class and their profit-driven system. This is what the labour movement needs to fight for.
If the RCMP get 24 per cent, so can everyone else. The only reason that workers do not gain this much is because union leaders aren’t fighting for it. Paying everyone else less is not justified based on education. It’s not justified in terms of health and safety. The only reason the capitalist class can justify this pay raise is because they want a violent force to put down the working class. By organizing and demanding parity, we expose the hypocrisy of the capitalist state and we win more for the working class as a whole.