New Internationalist

Hold the front page: Dale Farm resistance continues

‘I’m not racist, but you wouldn’t want them living near you, would you? They bring house prices down.’

I’m on the train to London after spending four days with travellers in Basildon, and this is the attitude of the first person I encounter since leaving the site.

An IPSOS MORI poll conducted in 2004 showed that a third of the UK population admitted to being prejudiced against gypsies and travellers. This man freely admits to being one of them.

Unfortunately such prejudice translates in to real-life material discrimination. According to a pack handed out at the Dale Farm protests, 90 per cent of planning applications by gypsies and travellers are rejected, as opposed to 20 per cent elsewhere.

Dale Farm is one such site where the planning laws are used to discriminate against travellers. Although Amnesty International and the UN have both warned that eviction plans may flout international human rights laws, Basildon Council is ploughing ahead anyway, using the equivalent of a third of its budget to do so.

The land the travellers inhabit is tucked behind three side roads. The land is owned by
travellers. Some of them have lived there for decades. Before the travellers inhabited it, it was a scrap yard. The irony is that if the council gets its way, it may become a scrap yard again.

Map of scrap yard before its purchase by Dale Farm

The Dale Farm site - before the travellers bought it - was a scrap yard. Photo by Jonnieo.

The campaign against the travellers has been spearheaded by a man who residents refer to as ‘our racist neighbour’. During my visit he was arrested for attempting to burn down a structure on the site. A stockpile of firearms was seized from his house. He has also reportedly sprayed sewage close to the encampment. Yet newspaper sources have for the most part given a sympathetic hearing to him.

The same can’t be said for the residents who risk losing their homes – including children who risk losing their access to education. Nor do the people from outside the camp who have agreed to help resist the eviction get a good press. While I am there the local newspaper writes about ‘anarchist thugs’ coming to Basildon. During a lengthy conversation with a journalist I turn the questions on him and ask him about the coverage so far. ‘To be honest, the story’s mostly written before we get here,’ he tells me, ‘and writing about thoughtful bookish types standing up for human rights doesn’t sell newspapers the same way as stories about anarchists and violence.’ It is no surprise that mainstream media access to the site has been restricted to allotted times.

I also speak to people who have experienced other evictions. I hear stories of children being dragged from caravans, abuse from bailiffs and belongings being destroyed. ‘In many ways this is a story that has been repeated for centuries,’ one veteran tells me, ‘but it is different in two ways. Firstly, the scale of the site, and secondly the strength of resistance. I think the bailiffs are going to find it very difficult indeed.’
Just how difficult they find it will be revealed all too soon.

Dale Farm Travellers:

Tim Gee works with campaigning organizations to support collective campaigns. He is active with the Climate Camp and numerous grassroots community campaigns. He is the author of Counterpower: Making Change Happen, New Internationalist, 2011.

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  1. #1 Ashwyn Smyth 16 Sep 11

    Yet another bleeding heart piece trying to legitimise those who ignore planning law (break the law actually) by erecting illegal structures and carrying on businesses illegally. I used to live not far from Dale Farm and I can tell you from fisrt hand experience that the presence of these travellers in their illegal encampment blighted life for many people in the area and, amongst other things, lead to a very nice pub closing because they lost their custom when the travellers made it their local.
    What I cannot understand is that the 'traveller' want to settle down i.e. stop being travellers, but seem to think that that entitles them to ignore or break the law.
    If they want to opt into society and reap the benefits then they need to become members of that society with all that entails - paying taxes, abiding by the law etc.
    As for basildon Council, they are doing what they must do, uphold the law, and listening to the wishes and opinions of those who elected them.
    It is the media who are making martyrs out of the travellers and, as ever, the wishes of a minority are being held as more important than those of the majority. Thank God I no longer live any where near Dale Farm.

  2. #3 Julia 17 Sep 11

    Ashwyn, the reason you don't understand why travellers have to settle is because you've obviously been blinded by prejudice and you don't understand the laws regarding travelling or the culture of these people. I was shocked when I came to this country and learnt of the discrimination these people face...very similiar to Australia's Indigenous people. I am not a 'bleeding heart', I am a human being who has empathy and compassion for those people who are being persecuted and who did not choose to 'opt' into has been forced upon them. Try some kindness, you'll feel better for it!

  3. #4 Henry 17 Sep 11

    It isn't surprising that 90% of travellers planning applications are turned down when they are usually to build on green belt land
    and only 20% of non travellers applications are turned down as these are mostly for extensions to their houses. Fairly obvious to anyone with half a brain.

  4. #5 Ray 19 Sep 11

    All you ever hear about where travellers are involved is that the value of your home goes down, well i am sorry the people who drive the value down are the owners themselves becouse they choose not to make freindship with them just cause trouble. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone.

    How many people who complain have themselves got a caravan/motorhome, trailer tent or tent and go and stay on campsites does the value of houses around them go down. no i dont think so.

    I have a motorhome and its a great adventure every time we go out.

    Leave them alone they only want to live their way of life, we dont protest about the rich having big houses and expensive cars.

  5. #6 ray 19 Sep 11

    may i also add that if we go way back in time, we have all decended from travellers and settlements so why are we trying to stop our heritage travellers were hear long before housing estates you didnt need planning permission back then.

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About the author

Tim Gee a New Internationalist contributor

Tim Gee is the author of Counterpower: Making Change Happen, shortlisted for the Bread and Roses Prize for radical nonfiction. He has campaigned with Occupy, Climate Camp, the Traveller Solidarity Network and the National Union of Students amongst others. He works as a grassroots trainer and has an MA in politics from Edinburgh University.

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