Following in the footsteps of the Tolpuddle Martyrs
25 July 2013
There's no better form of sun protection than spending the weekend in a huge marquee talking to people about WDM's campaigns. And so, with the sun beating down on the glorious Dorset countryside, last weekend I found myself in a very warm tent addressing Tolpuddle Martyr Festival-goers about the role of the banks and the City of London in pushing up food prices and bankrolling climate change. WDM’s food speculation and carbon capital campaigns resonated well with the crowd, the majority of whom were trade union members and at the festival to debate, discuss and inform themselves as well being there to enjoy the music.
I have visited Tolpuddle before, so I knew the story of the six men who, in the 1830s in their struggle to form a union and gain better wages for themselves and their fellow agricultural workers, were charged with making an illegal oath. The men were tried and convicted and sentenced to transportation and hard labour. In the face of huge protest, the government was forced to pardon the men, but not until they had spent three years in Australia. You can read more of the story on the Tolpuddle Museum website. It is an inspirational story and one worth reading - it shows what we can achieve when we work together and in solidarity with others.
The last time I visited Tolpuddle, it was a sleepy village, the streets were empty and my friend and I were the only visitors in the small museum. Not so on this occasion, when the sound of union brass bands, the Woodcraft Folk singing and a fantastic samba band formed the background to a vibrant march down the main street, with union banners and flags flying. We took part with our WDM flag and marched alongside War on Want! At the rally afterwards, the first female TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, reminded us of the many fights we have on our hands with the current government and its austerity agenda. We will only win these fights and our campaigns if we work together to create the world that we want, as those first trade unionists did almost 200 years ago.