Why not make a date in Dorset to mark the start of a union movement, asks Andy Ballard
Visiting the Edinburgh festival this year? See the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and get a 20% discount on the ticket as a union member:
We will be free
In 1834 a group of six agricultural workers from Tolpuddle in Dorset was arrested on a charge of administering an illegal oath.
The real offence was that they dared to form a union to defend their livelihoods. For this they were sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the penal colonies in Australia.
The sentence provoked an immense national outcry which led to the first great mass trade union protest.
The campaign won free pardons and the men were returned to their homes and families.
This historic moment in the continuing struggle for trade union rights in Britain and across the world is commemorated each year in the quiet Dorset village of Tolpuddle.
The Tolpuddle Festival began in a small way, but its popularity grows each year. It is well supported by local churches (the workers were all Methodists) and by local, regional and national trade unions.
Three days of youth workshops and children’s activities; 24 music acts from across the world to suit all tastes, with Billy Bragg headlining this year; and seminar groups and fringe meetings for those who fancy them.
The festival culminates in party mood on the Sunday with beer tents, food stalls, exhibitions, more music, speeches from trade unionists and a parade of union banners through the village.
This year CSP director and TUC president Lesley Mercer will address the crowds and the CSP banner will be carried in the procession.
Sunday at Tolpuddle is a great day out. Old friends and union colleagues meet, share their picnics, and walk with children, dogs, and banners aloft in memory of those brave workers whom we now know as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
I’ve been many times and it’s a lovely relaxed day among friends and colleagues with whom we share common goals.
Hope to see some of you there!
Andy Ballard is a CSP senior negotiating officer
The Tolpuddle Festival is held from 19 to 21 July.
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