David Landau and Doug Holton, Travellers Solidarity Network (TSN), look at the plight of Roma and Travellers after Dale Farm.
The brutal Dale Farm eviction thrust Travellers onto newspaper front pages and television screens – but it was not an exceptional event. Such evictions happen continually. What was unusual was the degree of resistance and solidarity and the scale of forces that the state mobilised to meet this.
The usual scenario is that a gang of thuggish bailiffs come on to a site – often without proper legal authorisation – and smash stuff up and physically throw the Travellers out. The police, supposedly there to keep the peace, do nothing about the assaults and criminal damage visited on the Travellers and even lend a hand to the bailiffs if things get out of hand. At Dale Farm, 300 riot police in riot gear burst in, using tazers, to make way for the bailiffs.
Basildon Council spent £8 million and police costs for the eviction were a further £10 million – at a time of austerity. Their excuse was that they were upholding the law: the Travellers did not have planning permission and were on Green Belt land. However, it used to be a scrapyard before the Travellers bought it and applied for planning permission – and now it is like a bomb site.
As Dale Farm resident Mary Flynn said, “Basildon Council spent nearly £8 million on making 83 families homeless. We’ve only moved 50 metres down the road – we’ve nowhere else to go. Basildon Council should spend that money on providing alternative sites and a solution for our community.”
Travellers and Roma have suffered persecution for centuries. They face racist harassment, name-calling and bullying at school and discrimination at work. They are barred from many pubs and restaurants. You still get signs appearing saying “Travellers strictly by appointment only”, despite the fact that these have been outlawed as a result of cases brought by the old Commission for Racial Equality. East European Roma children will tend to say that they are Polish, Romanian, Hungarian or Czech, rather than let it be known that they are Gypsies. Roma adults will say the same to employers. Gypsies and Travellers have the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in Britain – around 54 years for men.
This persecution is international and persistent. The Nazis targeted Roma for extermination in the Holocaust. Over half a million perished in the camps. Today fascist parties like Jobbik in Hungary campaign against the Roma. Their settlements have been set alight and the residents shot at as they have fled. When Roma have fled eastern Europe to France and Italy, they have faced a state crackdown. The French government has deported Roma back to eastern Europe, which is illegal given that they are EU citizens.
Here in Britain, east European Roma get vilified. There have been campaigns against them involving councillors from a variety of parties, including Labour. The police and media have encouraged the perception that they are heavily involved in child trafficking and using children to beg and commit crime.
In 1994 the Tory Government took away the obligation for local authorities to provide sites for Travellers. They encouraged people to buy their own land. Gypsies and Travellers struggled to raise the money to do so, only to find that they frequently could not get planning permission to live on their land. This is why people at Dale Farm found themselves evicted.
The battle of Dale Farm is not yet over. As they always said, the evicted Travellers had nowhere to go. Tony Ball, Leader of Basildon Council, told the press he did not know what the fuss was about because they could go to the authorised site next door. Some Travellers did just that. Now Basildon Council is seeking eviction proceedings against the authorised site for overcrowding! Other people have returned and parked up on the road approaching the waste land that was their home. They too have been served with eviction notices and action against them might take place very soon.
To add insult to injury, Tony Ball has been short listed for the Leader of the Year category in the 2012 Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) Achievement Awards in recognition of his role at Dale Farm. Dale Farm Travellers have reacted with shock and anger at the nomination and are calling on LGiU to drop Tony Ball from their list of nominees.
Eva Potts, a member of the TSN, said, “Tony Ball has torn apart a community, leaving them in desperate circumstances, while wasting public money that could have been spent constructively on public services in Basildon. To say he deserves an award is absurd and disgusting; Tony Ball does not serve communities – he wrecks them.”
Dale Farm Solidarity and the TSN have organised a protest outside the LGiU’s award ceremony at Westminster City Hall on 27th February, where they plan to present Tony Ball with an alternative award for Community Wrecker of the Year.
Across Europe Gypsies and Travellers are organising and fighting for their rights and people are organising in solidarity. In the wake of the Dale Farm eviction, the TSN was set up to fight evictions and other attacks on Travellers and Gypsies. Our principles are set out below.
The labour and trades union movement has no great history of support for Gypsies and Travellers and the prejudices current in society infect many members. However, when people start to organise for themselves, trade unions take issues on board, as has been seen with the women’s movement, the anti-racist movement, the migrant movement and the LGBT movement. This needs to happen with Gypsies and Travellers. It has already begun: a number of trades councils gave support to Dale Farm. Megan Dobney from SERTUC spoke at a rally at Dale Farm a couple of weeks before the eviction.
We need to build on this. There needs to be a campaign for support and affiliation in the trade union and labour movement, promoting awareness about the real issues. The TSN is organising a speaking tour. Union and Labour Party branches can invite us to speak or, better still, organise a public meeting. Trade unions, especially those active in local authorities, can encourage a policy of non-co-operation with evictions. Teachers unions can fight against cuts to resources for Gypsy and Traveller children. There is much that the movement can do and the time is now.
Smithy Fen reprieve
South Cambridgeshire Council has delayed moves to place injunctions on Traveller families at Smithy Fen forcing them to leave the land that they own. The Travellers are now applying for planning permission to make green improvements for the site.
Travellers from Smithy Fen and their supporters welcome the move. They say that pursuing injunctions would leave families destitute on the roadside, removing children from their education and increasing the vulnerability of residents who are in critical need of support from specialist local health care services.
The Travellers’ new development plans represent an opportunity to make radical transformations to part of the site, improving environmental
This branch deplores the continuing racism and disadvantage experienced by Roma and Traveller communities in the UK. Roma and Travellers comprise one of the most marginalised minorities in the UK, facing both direct racism and institutional racism in access to education, healthcare and other services. It is shocking that racism against Roma and Travellers remains largely mainstream and respectable, with routine campaigns against Roma or Traveller sites and the families who live in them.
This bigotry has been most sharply brought into focus at Dale Farm, with Basildon Council displaying an irrational hatred of Traveller residents, and the police using wholly unacceptable levels of violence – including the use of tasers – in clearing the site. We also note that Con-Dem cuts fall unequally, and it is the most disadvantaged groups – including Roma and Traveller communities – that are now paying a high price for an economic crisis they have not caused. We welcome the rise of self-organised campaigning and resistance by these communities, and the development of broader support organisations such as the Traveller Solidarity Network. We believe that support for these organisations is wholly in line with our union’s vision of a society based on justice and equality.
We therefore resolve to:
- affiliate to the Traveller Solidarity Network;
- pay TSN’s annual union branch affiliation fee of £50 and donate a further £xx towards campaign expenses;
- actively support Roma and Traveller rights, including publicising events organised by the TSN to our members and urging their support, including taking part in the international Roma Nation Day Event on 8th April;
- support members who refuse to co-operate with evictions against Traveller Sites.
- For more information, contact