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Riots break out at iPhone 5 factory

2,000 workers were involved in riots at a Foxconn factory in China's Shanxi province, reportedly involved in manufacturing the new iPhone.

40 workers at a factory of electronics manufacturer Foxconn in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China have been hospitalised after a fight broke out among as many as 2000 employees, according to reports from Bloomberg. The fight at the company, which assembles products from most major electronics corporations, including, notably, Apple, started between "rival worker groups" at 11pm last night, and escalated for the next four hours until security and police restored control.

Bloomberg's Tim Culpan writes:

The cause of the fight was not immediately clear, while Foxconn is assisting a police investigation of the matter, Woo said. Union representatives will be sent to the site today to discuss the situation with workers, he said.

Following the problems, the decision was made to temporarily shut the site:

“We want to give people time to cool down,” Louis Woo, spokesman for Taipei-based Foxconn said by phone. Chairman Terry Gou was informed of the incident at about 5 a.m. and agreed with the decision to halt production.

However, a rather different story was emerging on Sina Weibo, China's homespun Twitter. There, workers were sharing pictures that look less like a "fight between rival groups" and more like a full-blown riot – one which was reportedly triggered by security guards attacking a worker, reports Engadget's Richard Lai, who also throws some light on the background of the plant:

An undercover report from August mentioned that the Taiyuan plant processed the back casing of the iPhone 5. It also highlighted the company's harsh management as well as "practically compulsory" over-time work. We don't doubt that this riot escalated due to dissatisfaction over working conditions.

An official statement from the company is expected today, but with the Chinese censorship machine already kicking into action on Sina Weibo, expect a watered-down version of the truth at best.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.