Sunday, July 10, 2005

Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival

IN 1832, following the Reform Act of the same year, six farm labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, to protest the ever diminishing wages of the 1830s. In early 1884, a local landowner had the six men arrested on a charge of taking part in an illegal "secret oath" to one another. Their real offence, however, had been daring to form a trade union to defend their livelihood from their bosses. The six men were sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and transported to the penal clonies of New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land. They quickly became heroes of the growing labour movement, and the immense outcry that followed their deportation led to the granting of pardons and their return to England.

These six men, known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, are celebrated in an annual festival in their home village. Organised by the Trade Union Congress, the festival lasts an entire weekend (from the 15-17 July) and includes various activities, from music to speeches, and culminates in a march through the village on Sunday, during which Tolpuddle is filled with the banners of dozens of trade unions, all of whom owe their existance to men such as George and James Loveless, James Brine, Thomas and John Standfield, and James Hammett. This year, familiar speakers such as Tony Benn and Billy Bragg will be attending, as well as unionist representatives from across the world, from Columbian agricultural workers to Maung Maung, General Secretary of the Burmese TUC!

Whether you come for the jazz music or "Marxist magician" Iain Saville, you're sure to enjoy yourself. Speeches and stalls, food and music, plays and even socialist choirs, the weekend is absolutely packed with activities to keep you occupied. You can camp for the whole weekend, or just come for the Sunday procession - but don't miss out!


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