Forty years on from New Cross, the need to build a mass anti-racist, anti-imperialist movement is still paramount. No justice, no peace!
Late in 2019, days after Boris Johnson failed to win support for his withdrawal bill and called a snap general election, the Conservative party began an open consultation on "strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments". This was swiftly followed in the Conservative manifesto with a commitment to increase police powers against Travellers. The Home Office consultation contains leading questions and needlessly complicated language. Some might say this is intentional. Whether it's incompetent or deceptive, what's clear is that the Conservatives are committed to further criminalising the lives of Travelling people in Britain.
Roma/Travellers are amongst the most oppressed and discriminated against people, facing a number of difficulties in Britain. Unauthorised encampments, the focus of the Conservatives' crackdown, are primarily an issue of homelessness resulting from a lack of adequate sites to stop on. Publicly owned authorised camps are often in environmentally poor areas, next to busy roads/heavy industry, and are associated with poor health outcomes. Just 4% of all encampments are unauthorised, with 76% of Roma/Travellers living in bricks-and-mortar accommodation, and 24% live in a caravan or other mobile or temporary structure. Instead of utilising approaches to work with and improve the lives of travelling people, such as negotiated stopping, or providing more good quality sites for Roma/Travellers to live on, the government have opted to openly attack Roma/Traveller communities.
It's estimated that the entire Roma/Traveller population could be easily accommodated if as little as one square mile of land were allocated for sites in England. A simple fact which highlights just how politically motivated and racist this push for change in legislation is - even 75% of police respondents to a 2018 consultation said they don't need extra powers to react to unauthorised encampments, and 65% said that lack of site provision was the real problem! When even the racist police force won't support these laws, how will the government justify their plans? The government would prefer to use Roma/Travellers as political pawns rather than respond to their basic needs.
Whilst in no way trying to distract from this blatant attack on Roma/Traveller communities, we must also be clear that the proposed legislation will undoubtedly limit the rights of every citizen. It can be applied to everyone who will stop on the side of the road, or public or disused lands, with more than one vehicle.
We believe the government will disregard the responses to their consultation and pass the legislation whatever its outcome. For this reason, we call on all sympathetic organisations, charities, and people to work together and oppose this change. As communists, we cannot support any increase in police powers, especially when targeting already oppressed and marginalised communities.
Red Fightback stands in solidarity with Roma/Traveller communities and we will extend our help and support in the fight to come.