Wednesday, 21 July 2010
YCL makes it's presence felt at Tolpuddle 2010
This year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs festival was the biggest and brightest in a generation. Members of the YCL got stuck into a weekend of activity. We sold hundreds of Morning Stars and gave away over a thousand free copies of a re-launched Country Standard-the radical agricultural workers magazine-to inspire rural socialism. As well as the usual music acts, debates, food and drink, this year’s event included a radical history school and, due to the increased number of visitors, an overspill car park.
The festival commemorates 6 agricultural labourers who, in 1832, were arrested and transported to Australia for forming a trade union. George Loveless, James Loveless, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and John Standfield were taken away from their families for swearing an oath under the villages sycamore tree to establish a ‘friendly society’ in which they would stand together to protect each other.
There are not many festivals in Britain where the tents fly Cuban, Palestinian and Hammer and Sickle flags. Tolpuddle is unique in many ways, but the increase in visitors year after year indicates that a new generation is warming to the values of trade unionism, solidarity and socialism.
In a phenomena widely interpreted by festival goers to be divine intervention it rained for week before the start of the event and, by the looks of it, will rain for a week after the event. Yet it failed to pour down the entire weekend. In fact, the weather was so good during the festival that a few YCLers even managed to get sun burnt.
Festival organisers and visitors commented on how inspiring it was to see so many dedicated young people, however, this did not stop YCLers from enjoying a tasty lunch prepared by the general secretary’s dear mother, pints of local cider and the best ska, rocksteady, folk, African and ‘srumpy and western’ music.
Echoing George Loveless’s immortal words “We raise the watchword, liberty We will, we will, we will be free!” a large contingent from the Prison officers association took part in a ‘freedom hike’ from Dorchester prison to Tolpuddle to highlight their lack of rights. Whether from domestic court rulings or from EU legislation the right to form a union and go on strike is under attack.
The Sunday march was the biggest seen in years. The banners representing trade unions, labour and communist party branches as well as solidarity and other organisations were accompanied by several brass and pipe bands and thousands of marches. The rally included the twin figures of Tolpuddle, Billy Bragg and Tony Benn, although the former was heckled by the crowd for his endorsement of the Liberal Democrats.
There was a defiant mood throughout the entire festival, visitors gathered to debate how we should fight the cuts and to send a message to the Con-Dem government that we will fight these austerity measures.
Almost two hundred years ago, the working class mobilised in hundreds of thousands to free the Tolpuddle Martyrs and after a huge campaign the martyrs were released. The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs demonstrates how effective the labour movement can be when it is united.