Monday, 12 September 2011

All out to protect Dale Farm

by Frankie

The town of Basildon was created in 1948, designated a “new town” and intended to combat the housing shortage caused by the bombing of London in World War II. The irony would be amusing if it weren't so sad: in a town established to house the homeless, the local borough council is now gearing up for a mass eviction of travellers which will leave 100 families at the Dale Farm site homeless and countless children deprived of an education.

It's a truism that travellers are the only group in British society against whom racism is still culturally acceptable. We see it everyday in modern liberal-minded people's willingness to use words like “pikey” and the ubiquitous “chav” (derived from chavi, the Romani for “child”), in the stripping of councils' responsibility to provide adequate sites for travellers, and in David Cameron's unintended truth in claiming “there is one law that applies to everybody else and another law that applies to travellers.” (Cameron was right: 90 per cent of applications for planning permission made by travellers are rejected, compared to 20 per cent for the settled population.) Tory MP John Baron's recent talk of “reclaiming” green belt land “on behalf of the law-abiding majority” speaks volumes about the ingrained racism of the Tory ideology: without any pretense at a fair trial, travellers are branded as a criminal minority with no rights of their own. The website clearly shows how anti-traveller sentiment is commonplace while the same falsehoods, if perpetuated against another ethnic group, would be roundly and rightly condemned.

Dale Farm is Europe's largest traveller site, and is home to a vibrant community in which all ages and all walks of life are represented. All but three pupils of the nearby Crays Hill Primary School are Dale Farm residents. On September 5, the first day of the new school year, letters were sent to residents of half the site's pitches pledging to begin the long-threatened eviction of “illegal” pitches two weeks hence. Dale Farm's residents own the land—even Tory-controlled Basildon Council accept this. In support of the eviction, though, the Tories point out that the land is “greenbelt”—part of a stretch of land outside London intended to be kept unspoilt, as if to provide a barrier between the Countryside Alliance types of rural Essex and the mucky oiks of the city. The Council's suggestion is that, prior to the travellers' arrival, the site had complied with this aim; however, before Dale Farm was established for use by travellers, it was a scrapyard, with permission from the council. Now it's a community, but one which doesn't fit the worldview of the council, who in conjunction with the Home Office, the Department for Communities & Local Government, and the Essex Police Authority, are expected to spend up to £18 million on destroying homes.

The fight for Dale Farm is not taking place in isolation. The left's struggle in solidarity with travellers needs firstly to unite the fights domestically: while Britain's working class is told that “we're all in it together” and it's alleged that cuts are needed to recoup losses resulting from reckless government spending, the doublethink on show from the council, the Home Office and the police force, all complicit in the waste of millions for the sole purpose of making people homeless, is staggering. Secondly, the fight for Dale Farm also needs to be set in the context of the antifascist struggle internationally: parties pursuing anti-traveller policies have sprung up across mainland Europe, echoing the seemingly inexorable rise of anti-Semitic parties and paramilitaries in the 1930s as capitalism sought a scapegoat during its last great crisis. The Czech Republic's National Party (an organisation with links to our own BNP) sets the tone by promising “a final solution to the gypsy problem” (a pledge straight from the mouth of Heinrich Himmler), while France and Germany under Sarkozy and Merkel have embarked on programs of deportations amounting to state-enforced ethnic cleansing. In order to provide lasting protection for the people of Dale Farm and other traveller communities, we need not just to stop the bulldozers but to stop the fascists who are sending them in across Europe.

Finally: Dale Farm needs your support. A solidarity campaign means little without feet on the ground, helping to build barricades, keep watch for the bailiffs, and act as legal observers and human rights monitors. Camp Constant, a permanent protest camp on the site, was established at the invitation of the Dale Farm community, and activists have maintained an ongoing presence and will continue to do so until the struggle for Dale Farm comes to an end. But if you can't get down there, fear not: you can also donate to the campaign. The kindness of strangers is keeping activists fed, providing training and equipment for legal observers and the poor souls tasked with dealing with the media, and paying for publicity, and any contribution will go a long way and help to keep Dale Farm's residents away from the roadside that much longer.

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