Does the left have an adequate answer to violent crime?

The death of a pensioner I knew has shaken me

The Daily Mail reports:

A devout Muslim pensioner attacked by a race-hate gang of schoolboys has died.

Ekram Haque, 67, lost his fight for life a week after he was battered to the ground in front of his three-year-old granddaughter, Marian.

As revealed in today's Daily Mail, he suffered horrific head injuries in the assault outside a mosque in Tooting, south-west London, where he had just prayed.

As he and Marian waited for a lift, the gang ran up behind him and clubbed him around the head.

Two other worshippers chased the thugs away but Mr Haque -- described by friends as a 'gentle giant' -- had suffered horrific head injuries.

His granddaughter has been left "very shaken and disturbed", said her father, Mr Haque's son Arfan. Graphic images of the attack were caught on CCTV.

Scotland Yard formally launched a murder inquiry after Mr Haque passed away at St George's Hospital, Tooting, where he had been on a life-support machine since the attack.

Police are linking the assault on the retired care worker to a series of other attacks on elderly Asian people near the mosque.

I'm an occasional worshipper at that mosque in Tooting and I had heard on the grapevine, before it hit the newspapers, that an elderly man had been attacked outside it by a gang of youths on bank holiday Monday, after a Ramadan event. Yet until I saw his picture in the papers over the weekend, I didn't even think that I might know who Mr Haque was -- but I do. I knew him. Not personally. We weren't friends. But I'd seen him around the place and we'd exchanged pleasantries in the past. Now he's dead, killed in a mindless act of violence; killed while minding his own business on a south London street corner, with his three-year-old granddaughter watching. Unbelievable.

And even more unbelievable is this, from the BBC:

Four boys, aged 12, 15 and two 14-year-olds, have been charged with conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm (GBH).

All four are also accused of attacking two other men before the attack on Mr Haque. The four boys will appear at Sutton Youth Court on Tuesday.

Police are now treating the death of Mr Haque as murder.

All four boys face two counts of actual bodily harm (ABH) in connection with the attack on the two men, one in his forties and the other in his seventies, on 31 August.

How on earth can a 12-year-old allegedly carry out such a brutal attack? How are kids across Britain becoming killers? I hate to sound like Melanie Phillips or Chris Grayling, but isn't there something wrong with a society that produces such disturbed children?

Crime makes right-wingers of us of all. Whenever you hear stories like this, you feel a mixture of emotions: sadness, pity, depression, despair but, above all else, anger -- especially when the victim is someone you know. I can't tell you how angry I am right now. So are friends of mine who are regulars at that mosque in Tooting. They, like me, are filled with rage. One of them emailed me to say he wished a pack of Rottweilers could be unleashed upon the four youths who have been arrested so far (and who, incidentally, have not yet been found guilty of any crime).

It is an understandable reaction. But while we all, in our calmer and rational moments, acknowledge that state-sponsored violence against child criminals is immoral and pointless -- it doesn't bring the dead back to life, nor does it teach young offenders the difference between right and wrong -- there is a huge problem here for the left to address. It is the "Broken Britain" theme, on which the Tories have so successfully capitalised. It is worth revisiting a New Statesman leader from a fortnight ago:

There is . . . a profound and genuine sense, across economic classes and geographic regions in Britain, of a public dissatisfaction, even anger, at the coarsening of our public culture and the slow degradation of our urban spaces. Britain is not a "broken" society as the Tories would have it in their resonant slogan, but there is civic disengagement and a widespread perception that something is not quite right in society at large.

. . . Labour ministers, so adept at robotically rehearsing national statistics on crime, unemployment, income and the rest even as they help to create the most unequal society since the Second World War, ignore at their peril . . .public anxiety about social disorder.

The left, I believe, needs a strong, wide-ranging but balanced narrative on violent crime, and youth offending, that goes beyond the obvious socio-economic factors to explore the growing moral and cultural void at the heart of modern British society. Indeed, the left needs to reclaim the language of morality.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.