The labour movement was out in force at Tolpuddle, Dorset on Sunday 19th July, with an exuberant march and a greatly increased attendance. The highlight of the festival was a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing Labour leadership candidate, whose campaign and anti-austerity stance is rapidly gaining support.
The labour movement was out in force at Tolpuddle, Dorset on Sunday 19th July, with an exuberant march and a greatly increased attendance, and with marching bands, many trade union and trades council banners, and at least a dozen Labour Party banners.
“THE spirit of trade unionism shone through over the weekend as more people than ever before flocked to the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival,” stated Andy Nicholls, in the Bournemouth Echo (19th July 2015). The Echo quotes Nigel Costley, South West TUC regional secretary and festival organiser, who said that the event had been ‘fabulous’: “The spirit is phenomenal. You would expect to some extent it to be downhearted and gloomy but it is far from it. People are really upbeat and determined.” Reports indicated that attendance was up by a quarter on the previous year.
The Festival commemorates the farm labourers who were sentenced to transportation to Australia with hard labour in 1834 for forming a trade union and ‘taking an illegal oath’.
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, made an emotional speech in which she commended workers taking action to protect their rights. On the government’s threatened restrictions she said: “You can attack our rights, you can attack our unions, but you can never, ever crush our spirits.” She then called on the gathering to join with her in taking the oath made by the six martyrs in Tolpuddle 181 years ago: “We will, we will, we will be free!”
Campaigners for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to be Labour Party leader were also much in evidence and attracting a great deal of support. Many people of all ages were sporting Corbyn badges or tee-shirts with slogans like: “Jez we can!” – echoing the Obama campaign.
Jeremy addressed a large crowd at the Festival from the South West Unison tent and said that he always felt honoured to attend the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival and that it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate those who had fought for our movement. The left-wing Labour leadership candidate stated that:
“This year’s festival comes in the wake of the most draconian legislative proposals which seek to weaken trade unions. It is vital we use opportunities like today to remember we are always stronger as a collective and we have been in much tougher battles.”
He recalled the history of the battles for people’s rights including the Chartists.
“From the Tolpuddle martyrs themselves, the Bryant & May match girls, the General Strike in 1926, the Miners’ Strikes of the 1970s and 1980s, the Clydeside work-in, to Grunwick; whether we were victorious or not, we remember what was gained or what we learned and we will never forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants.”