Gangs are filling the gap left by the decline of trade unions in Britain’s inner cities, Crime writer Lee Child has said.
At a crime writing festival at the weekend, Child attributed the rise of gang violence to the decline of industry and said gangs imitate the structures and hierarchy of unions.
Child, 63, author of the bestselling Jack Reacher series, told the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate he was interested in the origin of gangs and why people choose to be members.
He said: “There’s a subtle and sophisticated inheritance there from what used to be the working class, the industrial workforces who had a common purpose and a common loyalty. A lot of them were unionised and had that exaggerated loyalty to each other as brothers standing shoulder to shoulder.
“All of those instincts have got to go somewhere. We no longer have giant industrial workforces, so I think that those human instincts for belonging, solidarity and standing shoulder to shoulder with somebody are getting increasingly channelled into gangs.
“If you look at gangs they imitate the hierarchy,” he said, adding that they have “protocols and tokens of respect, one to the other”.
“Gangs are filling the void left by the absence of industry,” he said.
Asked if he thought gangs were replacing unions he said: “Yes, they really are. In an exaggerated loyalty — you might actually dislike your fellow gang member but when push comes to shove you’ve got to stand by him, in the same way that in the old days you might not like your workmate but you’re going to stand with him against the industry.”
Trade unions have faced a sharp decline over the last four decades. Recent figures show just 23% of employees are members of a trade union, falling to just 14% in the private sector. Low-paid and low-skill workers, who individually have less bargaining power in the labour market, are least likely to join.
Child also said he had viewed YouTube videos of drill music following reports linking the rap sub-genre to gang violence.
He added: “Real life is so unsatisfactory for most people. If you’re a middle-class person in Harrogate and your house is burgled the reality is that they’re not really going to bother trying to find the people and you’re never going to get your stuff back, end of story. Miserable lack of closure with a buzz of frustration, that’s clearly unsatisfactory. In a crime novel you are going to get your stuff back.
“Those rappers are responding to the same impulse — whatever imagined slight they might feel — lack of respect or whatever the term might be, they are going to do something about it.”