Workers Hammer No. 216

Autumn 2011


Stop the racist evictions at Dale Farm!

Defend Travellers!

In the week commencing 19 September, 86 Traveller families living at the Dale Farm settlement in Basildon, Essex, are due to be forcibly evicted from land that they own and have used as a site for over a decade. The planned evictions follow a 31 August ruling by the High Court in favour of Tory-run Basildon Borough Council, whose claim that the Travellers do not have planning permission for pitches on part of the site is a smokescreen for blatant racism. Tory prime minister David Cameron as well as Labour leader Ed Miliband have chimed in to support the evictions, which the Travellers have aptly described as “ethnic cleansing”.

In Britain, the Travelling people comprise Gypsies (Roma) as well as ethnic Irish Travellers. Dale Farm is the largest Traveller settlement in Britain: if the eviction is allowed to go ahead, it will give a green light for attacks on Travellers and Gypsies across the country. The Spartacist League/Britain demands: Stop the racist evictions at Dale Farm! Defend the Travellers!

Longstanding official persecution of itinerant people was stepped up in 1994 with the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act under the Tory government of John Major. The law abolished the legal obligation of local authorities to provide halting sites for use by Travellers and made it easier for the police and local authorities to evict them. As a result, across Britain many Travellers, as well as Gypsies, saw no alternative but to buy land and settle. However, Travellers are often stymied in their efforts to gain planning permission for the new land they have purchased. While 80 per cent of planning applications by the settled population are approved, around 90 per cent of applications for sites made by Gypsies and Travellers are rejected at the first hearing, “often following orchestrated campaigns by local residents”, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (quoted in, 26 April 2009).

Bowing to local anti-Traveller bigotry, Basildon Council claimed the Travellers’ settlement on part of Dale Farm was “illegal” because that land was “green belt”. In fact, much of this ostensibly pristine English countryside was a scrapyard, licensed from 1978 to 2001 to hold the rusting remnants of cars. Now Basildon Council has enlisted a notorious bailiff company, Constant & Co, to essentially carry out a state-backed pogrom against the residents of Dale Farm.

An article in the online edition of the Jewish Chronicle (8 September) titled “‘Culturally acceptable racism’ at Dale Farm” notes the parallels between anti-Roma bigotry and anti-Semitism. The article quotes Ruth Barnett, a German Jew who fled Hitler’s Nazis for Britain in the 1930s and recently visited Dale Farm as part of a Jewish solidarity group: “Even the local taxi drivers refuse to drop me at the site for fear of being labelled ‘gypsy lovers’.” Indeed, Jews and Gypsies have a long, shared history of victimisation and oppression throughout Europe. In Britain today, Irish Travellers and Romani Gypsies — distinct groups with different histories and languages — are an oppressed, marginalised and vilified sector, with no social power. The working class, which does have social power, must be mobilised in their defence. For trade union-centred defence of Traveller homes! Fight anti-Traveller racism!

A major obstacle to winning the labour movement to this perspective is virulent bigotry throughout society against Travellers. Until recently, discriminatory anti-Traveller signs were routinely displayed in many pubs and shops. The Travelling community suffers poverty, high rates of illiteracy and a life expectancy ten years lower than that of the settled population. Gypsy and Traveller mothers are 20 times more likely than the rest of the population to have experienced the death of a child.

Prejudice against Travellers also intersects anti-Irish racism. Travellers such as those at Dale Farm, who are mainly of Irish extraction, are routinely taunted to “go back to Ireland”, despite the fact that many were born here and hold British citizenship. But capitalist Ireland is a hell for them too. In the article announcing “Dublin Spartacist Youth Group launched” (Workers Hammer no 117, October 1990), we noted: “The Travellers are a minority grouping treated similarly to Gypsies in Britain. Their treatment echoes the vile British chauvinism directed against the Irish.” We insisted that “defence of the horribly oppressed Travellers’ community is an acid test of Irish revolutionaries”.

Anti-Traveller bigotry and vigilantism serve the same purpose as anti-immigrant racism in deepening divisions in the working class and oppressed. Attacks on Travellers, like attacks on Britain’s black, Asian and other ethnic minorities serve to bolster fascist scum like the English Defence League who are increasingly on the offensive. It is in the interest of the working class to defend Travellers as part of its struggles against the capitalist state. This means combating the anti-Traveller racism that is prevalent in British society. In order to fight for its own emancipation the working class must become conscious of the necessity to combat all aspects of chauvinism and prejudice and place itself at the head of all the oppressed in a fight to overthrow the capitalist system of oppression and exploitation. The Spartacist League/Britain has consistently defended the Travellers against all forms of discrimination and vigilante provocations. We seek to build a revolutionary vanguard party of the working class which would be, in the words of Bolshevik leader VI Lenin:

the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

What is to be Done, 1902