Hanaa Shalabi (R) spent 43 days on hunger strike after being arrested and held without charge Source: Getty Images
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A third intifada? Mehdi Hasan on the hunger strikers in Palestine

Expect violence and chaos if the Palestinian hunger strikers perish.

In her excellent report today on the 2,000 or so Palestinian hunger strikers, the Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent Harriet Sherwood quotes Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas telling Reuters:

If anyone dies … it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation.

She also quotes Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, telling a solidarity rally in Jaffa:

If one of the striking prisoners dies, a third intifada [uprising] will break out.

A third intifada? Is that what the world wants to see? If not, why on earth has so little attention been paid to the plight of these prisoners in "administrative detention"? Why has so little pressure been brought to bear on the Israeli government?

In a provocative and passionate column today, the Independent's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes:

The moralistic Chief Rabbi will not be on "Thought for the Day" expressing sorrow for the treatment of these prisoners. Ardent British Zionists will not be pressed to condemn those responsible for the state barbarism. You certainly won't get a big TV hit like Homeland, (based on Hatufim, an Israeli TV series that fictionalised the capture by Palestinian militants of the IDF soldier Gilad Shalit) being made about these men. Come on, you cool, edgy TV chaps, how about a film about a handsome Palestinian held by the Israelis till he loses his mind? Do I hear a choral "No"?

Western opinion formers have been indifferent, in some cases knowingly so, about what is happening. No condemnations are heard around our Parliament. They say we must have freedom of speech, but that right is never evoked when it comes to Israel.

Perhaps it is our own morally questionable behaviour that is holding us back in relation to Israel's behaviour. As I noted in a column that I wrote on the plight of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, the detained father-of-two who ended his remarkable 66-day hunger strike on 21 February as doctors warned he was "in immediate danger of death":

As is so often the case, international law is not on the side of the Israelis. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - to which the State of Israel is a signatory - makes clear that no person should be "subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention". The ICCPR allows for governments, in narrow and extreme circumstances, to derogate from this obligation temporarily, yet, as Litvin notes, "Israel uses it on a regular basis".

In fact, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has condemned Israel's use of long-term administrative detention - in particular, those cases, like Adnan's, in which detainees are held without trial merely for belonging to an "illegal organisation".

Here in the west, however, we have abandoned any moral high ground we may have occupied. The last Labour government inter­ned terror suspects without trial in Belmarsh between 2001 and 2004; the current coalition government's Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures allow for indefinite house arrest without charge. In the US, President Obama has signed into law the National Defence Authorisation Act, which permits the indefinite detention in military custody of terror suspects. Habeas corpus has been consigned to the history books.

You can read the full column here.

 

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.