News in brief

Herefordshire Council have been accused of imposing a ‘tax on coming to work,’ as free parking and ‘business permits’ for staff travelling in work time are set to end. The council is trying to find £200,000 a year through charging all staff for parking. Long-serving local authority staff believe they have a right to free parking from the time when they transferred to Herefordshire Council from the former district and city authorities. The changes are currently on hold pending a review, and Steve Akers, local organiser for Unison, said the changes were only on hold because Unison had lodged a collective grievance opposing them, with negotiations ongoing. He said the union wanted more negotiation on alternative eco-friendly travel options for council staff rather than the current approach that was “all stick”.

“By our calculations, what is proposed could cost the staff affected around £230 a year, none of us have received a pay rise like that for the past few years,” said Mr Akers.

Police have been getting rough lately, using violence against peaceful protesters and carrying out the violent eviction of travellers at Dale Farm. The 10-year struggle and legal battle at the Dale Farm traveller site in Essex, came to an end last month amid much media attention and violence. For months travellers and supporters had been fighting the eviction of the site in court. Basildon Council were trying to evict ‘illegal’ plots on the site that did not have planning applications, using the site’s green belt status as some of their main reasoning. However, the site was previously used as a scrap yard, and the council itself had laid the tarmac there.  After losing the court battle, residents and supporters braced themselves for the eviction. On the 19thOctober it happened, with hundreds of riot police raided the site and the violent scenes that followed. With their best attempts, the police and the media laid the blame with the supporters of the travellers, despite the Tazers that were immediately used, and the baton charges and subsequent injuries that followed.

Within the day the site was cleared; £18 million was spent and a community was ripped apart. The media got their spectacle, and the Tory council got their show of force. In the aftermath, a Traveller Solidarity Network has been formed. The BBC have produced a fairly decent ‘behind the scenes’documentary covering the eviction. You can view the Dale Farm Solidarity website here.

On the night before new anti-squatting laws in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill were due to be debated in Parliament, over a hundred people converged outside for a Halloween picnic and protest. The police contained protesters, and then used batons to disperse others. 12 people were arrested, despite it being completely peaceful. The bill is going to have wide ranging repercussions as squatting is clamped down upon, especially at a time when we are in a housing crisis, with homelessness and house repossessions on the rise.

The ‘Occupy’ Movement has continued to grow, and has been hitting the headlines for weeks now. There are tent occupations at about a dozen locations across the country, and over a thousand around the world. More locally, they have taken place at Bristol and Birmingham. Whilst the protests have sometimes lacked cohesive arguments or thoughtful targets, there have been some positive developments to come out of this movement. In Oakland, California, a strike and huge protest march took place on 2nd November. Thousands joined the strike and marched through the city, and successfully massed at the port, meaning it could not operate all day! This was in the face of attempted violent repression from the police and much ‘red scare’ type journalism from the American media.

We believe the worldwide movement can learn a lot of what they’ve been doing in Oakland – spread the struggle, make links with workers and other movements, get out of your tents and get onto the streets!

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