In all toil there is profit

As the immigration of Roma to Western European states continues to cause media panic, Damian Le Basconsiders the history of Romani trades and the astonishing variety of jobs that Europe and Asia have relied on their “Gypsies” to do.

Picture: dental forceps, picture © The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. To find out the significance of this picture, please read on…

Picture: dental forceps, picture © The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. To find out the significance of this picture, please read on…

I’M a writer and a filmmaker: I write and make films for a living, and writing and films are what put food on my table. That might not strike some people as particularly surprising, but to me, it still is.

When I was younger I tried to think of myself as a writer, but it was hard to really believe it. It was a vague aspiration, not a sensible ambition. And the most sensible ambition I could have had wasn’t really an “ambition” anyway: it was to do what everyone else did, the work that had put food on the table for years.

When I was a kid, “what everyone else did” meant either selling flowers or doing building and roofing work. These were the sensible options, and even people in my family who had aspirations still had to do the sensible stuff. My mother and father were artists, but art didn’t pay the bills. They still sold flowers to make ends meet. So I guessed that once I grew up I’d sell flowers or do some kind of building. There were other options that seemed a bit more exotic but were still pretty close to home: selling horses, fixing motors, or buying and selling scrap; but the idea of selling words I’d actually written myself, or films I’d actually made, would have sounded about as realistic as thinking I could go and open a flower shop in outer space.

In Romani culture, the idea that you should do ‘our kind of work’, ‘Gypsy work’ or ‘Romani buki’ or whatever you happen to call it, is a powerful one. Why shouldn’t it be? We might think of how common it is in all cultures to establish a ‘family business’, a trade you and your vitsa are known and trusted for: fine. But setting up shop in a job that plays to your strengths is not the same thing as playing a role in the world of work because other people just expect you to, or because you don’t believe you can do anything different.

Outside Romani culture, the idea of ‘Gypsy jobs’ is probably even more powerful. So what jobs do we do? They could be classified in different ways I suppose. There are the jobs that are jobs, and are useful to society; the jobs that are jobs, and aren’t useful to society; and the jobs that aren’t actually jobs, but crimes. So, as examples, in the first group we have agricultural labour (farm work); in the second group, fortune telling; and in the third group, stealing. There’s one hypothetical, externally generated tri-partite paradigmatic prism for viewing Romani labour. Or- in English- an outsider’s way of looking at Romani work.

Why do views like this continue to prevail, when they clearly have a detrimental effect on Romani people’s view of themselves and their potential (as they would have on anyone’s) and also clearly fail to describe the variety of jobs we are doing and, also, the variety of jobs we have always done? Yes, you read that correctly: the variety of jobs we have always done.

In the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, my mother came across the pair of dental forceps shown in the picture above. The card attached reads:

Dental forceps made by local GYPSIES. Made of iron, with long, slender, curved handle: the small pincer jaws end in two teeth on each side. Length c.17cm. People:
Albanian Gypsies. Locality: Scutari, Albania. Collected by Miss M.E
Durham, 1911. How acquired: presented by her, 1933.”

This information is significant, but not as significant as what Professor Thomas Acton later unfolded about these forceps. The Romani people (“Albanian Gypsies”) who made them would not only have been blacksmiths talented enough to make medical instruments, but they were also doing the dentistry. This is at least 80 years ago, and these “Gypsies” were dentists.

This is but one example of the variety I mentioned above, but it’s a didactic example at least. I can’t fully explain why this discovery made me smile so much, but I’ll try to explain it in part. I smiled- as I did when I first read about Helios Gomez, the artist and political thinker who was also Gitano- because it made me realise that, coming from a Romani family and feeling that I have a good grasp of my cultural heritage, there is still so much I do not know, that most of us do not know, about the range of things our people have done to survive. Historical textbooks are at pains to point out that one reason why Roma people in the Islamic world were doing trades like dentistry is because they were considered unclean by others: this information is of secondary significance to me. The main thing is that the resourcefulness and skill of these Roma led them to take up this trade, and this history of flexibility, and of skill, is not being made enough of in the current political discourse around Romani immigration.

Above: the Gitano artist and leftist political thinker, Helios Gomez.

Above: the Gitano artist and leftist political thinker, Helios Gomez.

There is one other caveat to all this discussion, which thrives on the presumption of laziness and fecklessness among Romani people. Let’s keep it simple: in plenty of corners generally hidden from the selective eyes of well-known history, Europe has gotten rich by breaking the backs of Romani people who worked and worked for centuries, the problem being that they were neither paid, nor respected as humans. Vast, successful corporations (you know who you are) have been seeded in this way and continue to thrive from these roots, and the very least we can ask is that this be noted and respected as part of the history of our continent.

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty:” so we are told by the biblical book of Proverbs. It’s a nice quotation with a bold simplicity to it, and you might even find yourself nodding along. I did. Then I thought about reality, and one reality in particular: slavery. It’s unlikely that the author (or compiler) of the book of Proverbs was a slave: literate slaves were few and far between in the ancient Near East. Anyway, in the toil of slavery there is indeed profit, it’s just that the profit doesn’t happen to go to the one who is toiling.

By Damian Le Bas

In all toil there is profit.

 

A time to fear your own private opinions.

Earlier to day the Independent newspaper published an article entitled Top Twitter Gaffes of 2013 after a Public Relations Expert tweeted the unforgivable: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. She unsurprisingly lost her job soon after landing.

As a Human Rights activist who campaigns predominantly online I am highly concerned about the impact my e-footprint might have for future job prospects. I might be working in what I would hope to be a mutually exclusive sphere to Justine but I am no less controversial and no stranger to grime satire.

One would hope Justine’s comments were a crass attempt at raising awareness of the disparity between access to health care and education for people living in different areas of ‘African’ communities but it simply wasn’t. Just a ‘harmless’ ‘joke’ with the punchline playing on misinformation and ignorance.

Now I do not agree with people’s personal lives, or as I put it earlier ‘being a bad person’, so severely impacting someone’s career as to lose them their job, especially within the private sector where unlike politicians or public figures they are not themselves a product just another drone following the corporate line. But in this example the company, due to the amount of attention she received could not but sack her as a representative on grounds of bringing said company into disrepute. Let alone any ill comfort or feeling she might have created between herself and her co-workers.

So where is my personal concern in all this? As a Human Rights campaigner  I discuss issues such as discrimination and ignorance without our direct communities and throughout the world. As a masochist my interests lay within more controversial areas of human rights abuses such as indigenous right, Roma and the Arab-Israeli conflict (Hint: I use the word Palestinian). All I want, somewhat naïvely, is for all human beings to be treated as people with equal access to the same state facilities as people of other races and cultures within their given country. That statement also includes ‘regardless of sex’ but that’s a topic for a different time.

What possible problem could that cause for me then? Non at all one would hope but people so often fall within one of a small number of categories – ‘The Bore: You’re so Boring’, ‘The Ignorant: But they’re Criminals?’, ‘The Doe-Eyed: What? I Didn’t Realise Racism Existed Today?, & ‘The Enraged: But they’re Criminals!’. The majority of my peers fall within either the first or third category, and the second and fourth are so closely related and interchangeable that it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly where ‘The Average Person’ stands. There is also a fifth category known as the ‘But I’m not a Bad Person’ but everyone is a little guilty of that.

Each category presents its own unique trials and obstacles, it is very difficult to know exactly where a given person is going to stand on the topic and without a full understanding of the issues and exactly what I know or do not know my feed can feel a little daunting with individual statements cherry pick-able almost at random.

Above all this, what does every employer want? Someone who can get along with a team and when you risk taking a stand on something you believe in, especially something that goes against conventional opinions or highlights problem where ‘there aren’t any, right guys?’, you gamble building a reputation as a high-risk investment.

You don’t believe me? Try reading some of my hate mail :3

Return to Dale Farm – ‘Two years later, we’ve got nothing’

I usually don’t discuss Travellers but the Dale Farm eviction was a mess of gargantuan scale that made no economical or logical sense. A lot of money was wasted to make the area worse, nobody can be happy with this.

 

Return to Dale Farm – ‘Two years later, we’ve got nothing’

Travellers living in Dale Farm face a bleak winter. It is just over two years since Basildon council evicted them from their land and demolished their homes, reports Sadie Robinson


Dale Farm in 2013,  two years after bailiffs and bulldozers destroyed a vibrant and  long-standing community of Travellers

Dale Farm in 2013, two years after bailiffs and bulldozers destroyed a vibrant and long-standing community of Travellers (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Travellers living in Dale Farm face a bleak winter. It is just over two years since Basildon council evicted them from their land and demolished their homes, reports Sadie Robinson

For many Christmas is a time to celebrate. But for one group of families in Essex it will be just another day spent in cold caravans on a muddy roadside surrounded by rats.

It’s just over two years since Basildon council evicted 86 families from the Dale Farm Traveller site. Many are still living on the road just yards from the plots they were forced from—because they have nowhere else to go.

And shockingly, Basildon council’s new housing report said that evicted Dale Farm Travellers will not be housed for being a burden. The council admits that this decision is “political” (see below).

Mary Sheridan is one of those evicted in October 2011. She told Socialist Worker, “I’ve lived at Dale Farm for eight years. “I was happy living here. But look at how we have to live now. We’re living in filth.”

The road is covered in mud and potholes. Women are forever pouring soapy water outside their homes in an effort to keep things clean.

Brid, who has lived at the site for around six years, is one of them. She told Socialist Worker she cleaned the roads around every two hours. “I’ve got pains in my back now after lifting the water for cleaning the road,” she said.

Before the eviction Dale Farm was divided into legal and illegal plots. Travellers living on the illegal plots owned the land but had been repeatedly refused planning permission to live there.

Dale Farm residents are forced to live on the roadside

Dale Farm residents are forced to live on the roadside (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Now those stuck on the roadside have to rely on people living in legal plots to supply them with water and electricity. Cables run over the wall from chalets on the legal site to the caravans.

Brid said her main worry was for the children. “A lot of kids are getting sick here,” she said. “There’s a lot of sickness and diarrhoea. There are no toilets. If the council brought in disposable ones we would take care of them and clean them ourselves. They should try to do something about this. We’re living like rats.”

Living on the roadside means living next to a regular flow of traffic. “It’s worse when the snow and ice comes,” said Brid. “You’re scared that the cars will skid and come right into the caravan.”

The Environment Agency has confirmed that there is asbestos at Dale Farm. And the Red Cross reported concerns about “raw sewage” and the lack of toilets.

Martin O’Leary is another Traveller who was evicted from the site. He told Socialist Worker that the area he used to live on “is now a pothole, a swimming pool for rats”.

“You can hear them at night,” added John Fox, “If you throw a piece of food outside at night you can hear them rush for it.”

Basildon council leader Tony Ball led the eviction—at a cost of over £7 million. He then claimed the council would offer “housing assistance” to those made homeless. But as Mary put it, “Two years later, we’ve got nothing.”

Paddy said the treatment of Travellers have showed that Ball is “prejudiced”.

“Ball should’ve spent the money he spent evicting us on a new site,” said Paddy. “We would’ve loved to have moved out if there was a new site to go to. But he’s gone home to his big house and his big TV. Look how we’re living. We’re human beings. But they’re treating us like animals.”

Travellers at Dale Farm are used to racist scapegoating. As Martin put it, “This area has one of the lowest crime rates in Basildon. But whenever there’s a crime, they always blame the gypsies.”

Basildon council said it evicted Travellers from Dale Farm because it wanted to “return” the land to greenbelt. But before Travellers bought the land, it was a scrap yard.

And the former site was dug up by bulldozers during the eviction. Deep trenches that stop vehicles returning to the site have mixed up tarmac, soil and concrete.

Piles of bricks and wood litter the site with old furniture, children’s toys, a mattress, carpets and bags of sand. People have been forced to use the land as a toilet in the absence of anything else.

“We’re still not back to ourselves,” said Margaret Gammell. “It’s terrible stress.”

“It’s not fair,” added John. “We never stole the land—we bought it. All that money they spent on the eviction and we’re still here. But now we’re living in a health hazard.”

Some people ask why the Travellers don’t travel and go elsewhere. But changes in the law have made it harder for Travellers to move around. There are fewer legal sites for them to go to.

Some of those living at Dale Farm, such as Brid, ended up there after being evicted from other sites.And some Travellers wanted a permanent address to make it easier to access doctors and for children to go to school.

“If we go somewhere else,” said John, “the police just say it’s illegal to be there and move you on.”

For all the problems, Travellers have fought to make a home on the roadside. Many have doormats and pot plants outside their caravan doors. Washing hangs out to dry on a metal fence that keeps Travellers out of an adjacent field.

Festive decorations adorn the caravans and signs in the windows read, “Merry Christmas”. But many feel far from festive.

“We’re living like we were 40 years ago,” said Pat. “If we lived in a third world country we’d be treated better than this.

“To be treated like this is a joke.”


Building on greenbelt

Basildon council plans to build thousands of houses on nearly 500 hectares of greenbelt land—cutting 7 percent of its greenbelt. Councillors were set to discuss the plans at a meeting on Thursday of next week and a public consultation is set for the New Year.

The plan for 12,000 new homes would allow around 9,100 to be built on greenbelt land. Tory council leader Tony Ball claimed the plan to build on greenbelt was actually aimed at protecting it.

“Allocating a limited release of greenbelt protects the rest of it even more, without allocation the greenbelt is open season for developers,” he said.


‘It’s political’

There will be no provision for Travellers evicted from Dale Farm for “political reasons”, say Basildon council. The council’s new housing plan includes provision for 121 Traveller pitches over the next 20 years.

This is based on an assessment of Traveller needs in the borough—excluding those evicted from Dale Farm.

If they were included in the provision, the council would need to provide an extra 155 pitches. Tory council leader Tony Ball said, “We are not going to make provision for those formally moved from Dale Farm.”

When asked for the reason behind this, the council’s press office told Socialist Worker, “That is a political decision”.

The council produced a report on its housing plan this month.

It said, “Whilst the advice in ‘Planning Policy for Traveller Sites’ is that local authorities should plan for all those families wishing to reside in their areas, the Council considers that having to plan for 155 pitches as well as the 121 would place an unrealistic burden on the Council.

“Basildon has always argued that the provision of traveller sites is a regional and national issue and not one that should automatically be resolved by those authorities where the families happen to arrive and settle.”

If the council gets away with its plan, other councils can argue that it is too much of a “burden” to provide for Travellers.

It risks leaving more Travellers stranded on the road—where they will be moved on because they are living “illegally”.

Read on original site

 

Pat’s comment at the end amused me, no Pat if you lived in a third world country (so one not allied to America or the USSR???) you wouldn’t be treated any better… But then again you’re not Roma so maybe… but I highly doubt it.

Keep your head down

A couple of days ago I posted a status on Facebook™ about a women at my workplace who has been being sexually harassment and was on one occasional sexually assaulted physically by a superior within the company. I posted this primarily because I believe that it is pretty grime that she almost did not report it because she was worried about potential backlash that might, in her opinion, put her job at risk. It came to the point that she no longer felt entirely safe, let alone comfortable.

Keep your head down

Has her job been put at risk? I highly doubt it but still remains to be seen. The important thing is she felt that it might jeopardise her position within the company because she was  scared how her colleagues and managers might react and most importantly how the offender might react. This fear, founded in reality or not, is very real and it prevents people like this lady coming forward and standing up for themselves.

My second motivation for posting my little update, and in some ways the most important reason, was because I have friends and acquaintances who believe that sexual harassment within the work place is not an issue because it is not an everyday occurrence. I believe they are wrong, it can be an everyday occurrence, some people will experience it multiple time in their life and some people will never come across it at all.

Now moving onto my point, after posting this I was sent the most well meaning message from a work colleague essentially telling me to mind my own business because it does not directly impact me and, I quote, I should ‘keep my head down’.

Fair, fair spreading rumour around the office is not the wisest or nicest of ideas, and as they say ” You stick your neck out, you are asking to lose your head”.

I’m not entirely sure I agree, in fact I’m not entirely sure I agree with the principle at all. I believe discussing these issues is highly important or at the very least should not be taboo, and to back up dehumanised and conservative statistics with personal experience, not that antidote cannot be faulty or just down right dangerous but it lends a face to something that not everyone experiences and could be excused for not considering relevant to their lives.

I have been sexually assaulted on multiple occasions to varying degrees, and it is very difficult to know what to do and how to react. A simple part of you just wants to smack the offender in the face and teach him a lesson but what lesson will be learnt. Violence is not the simple answer because it can so easily be used again you. Instead of anger I feel fear, embarrassment and shame. As the ‘victim’ this is not acceptable. We have every right to stand up for ourselves but it is sometimes difficult to know how and it is not guaranteed that we will be supported.

As my second point on the original post goes on to discuss but skims around, even though she was being supported and taken seriously, her manager (who was being less than subtle shouter her complaint across the break room within ear shot of multiple colleagues) seemed more interesting in reassuring himself that, for her sake he hadn’t been making her feel uncomfortable with his own ‘banter’ but ultimately that he was a good person. Understandable perhaps but she might have preferred not to have him telling her so many times about how much of a ‘great guy’ the man who assaulted her is. I think we all agree that he isn’t a Disney villain (or Walt Disney himself) but in this instance as we are focusing on his treatment of her , how amusing he is down the pub with the lads might not be entirely relevant.

The stories of how much of a laugh he is, even though the manager is trying to be supportive, is just going someway to reaffirm the fear of not only hierarchical bureaucratic position within the company but also social position within the working entity as a society or social group.

This is not a situation I am going to get any further involved in, she wants to try to keep it quiet amongst per colleagues so I doubt she would appreciate me taking a front row seat in her personal battle I stand by believing it is very important not to pretend that such issues do not exist and are not relevant to the lives of the majority of people regardless of whether or not they have first hand experience.  Every man has a women in their lives: mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, every women has the same. That’s why I think we owe it to yourself and the people we love not to play pretend or feels as if there is nothing we can do about it, we can do a lot by simple talking.

Like in the plot of every film or video game, surely these characters would get more stuff done if they simple talk to each other.

The Blame Game: The Choice of Words in the Media Depiction of Roma

ROMEDIA FOUNDATION

In a world that increasingly sees the use of  insensitive and racially charged terms as being unacceptable in public speech, the manner in which the media covers issues regarding Roma still trails behind all across Europe, with expressions ranging from the patronizing to the down-right offensive still being the norm in the media vernacular. Rather than being just an issue of journalistic ethics, some of these ill-conceived choices of words have very real consequences on the way the Roma are perceived and treated.

In recent years, the mainstream media’s level of outright hate-speech against minorities has somewhat subsided, while still, predictably, thriving in nationalist publications and independent blogs. While this new-found political correctness should definitely be applauded, it seems to have skipped the Roma, who are still treated in a horrendous manner by virtually any news story.  Even apparently benign use of language should also be more deeply scrutinized, being…

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