However, what is going on at Dale Farm, where families occupying their own land face forced eviction and homelessness (http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/) cannot be ignored.
Basildon Council claim that they are simply enforcing planning law to protect the green belt - yet it was they who first covered this patch of green with concrete (http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/dale-farm-concreted-over-by-basildon-council/) and the site was a scrap yard before Travellers made it their home.
This eviction is a discriminatory act borne of prejudice.
I understand that the local authority has prohibited its own staff, including union activists, from speaking out about this matter - but the trade unions must not be silent in the face of such injustice.
It was good to see Rodney Bickerstaffe, our former General Secretary, put his name to a letter to the Guardian last week in opposition to this outrage (http://m.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/sep/14/resume-talks-dale-farm-evictions?cat=uk&type=article) - but the official Labour movement has been all but silent, though the Travellers have the support of many Labour MPs.
UNISON has no specific Conference policy which addresses the plight of Traveller communities, whose members are generally unlikely to be amongst the ranks of the organised working class.
Justice is, however, indivisible. Discrimination and prejudice invariably weakens our class, and at our best the trade union movement recognises both the duty and necessity to oppose injustice and oppression.
We do this though in a way which - because it is intended to be democratic - is sometimes frustratingly slow. A former General Secretary can speak out - and rightly has done - but a current official has to act within the policies agreed by the elected representatives of our members.
Whatever may take place at Dale Farm - and all socialists will wish those resisting the eviction well - we need now to ensure that, through the democratic structures of our movement, we adopt clear policies to defend the right of Travelling communities.
Our sister union, PCS, has stated that "PCS is supporting the campaign to stop the forcible eviction of residents from Dale Farm. We believe the removal would be a violation of human rights and an act of ethnic cleansing." (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/pcs-against-racism-and-fascism/). UNISON needs to adopt a similarly clear position.
There are hundreds at Dale Farm, and there are hundreds of thousands of Travellers. We must find a way to offer the solidarity of millions of trade unionists.
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