Workers’ Notes:Banners bright in Tolpuddle!

by Alex Kempshall

THOUSANDS of workers marched behind their union banners through the small Dorset village of Tolpuddle last Sunday. They marched to honour the six farm workers who were sentenced to seven years penal servitude in Australia in 1834 for forming a trade union. A massive protest swept across the country.

The working class rose up in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament to demand their freedom. After three years, during which the trade union movement sustained the Martyrs’ families by collecting voluntary donations, the government relented and the men returned home with free pardons and as heroes.

The Tolpuddle weekend is more than just the Sunday march and rally, it’s a whole weekend festival starting on the Friday afternoon. There were many stalls from the trade union and solidarity movements, and guided tours of the village to see where the Martyrs lived, worshipped and organised.

There were numerous speeches from the great and the good of the labour movement, including: TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady; Andrew Murray, the Chief of Staff of Unite the union; and Jeremy Corbyn, the charismatic leader who has won millions to the Labour banner over the last three years.

Jeremy Corbyn painted the picture of conditions in 1834 that led to the Tolpuddle martyrs risking their lives for the liberty of us all. They founded the basis of trade unionism. What they did was bring about many of the rights we enjoy today — the right to join a union, the right to a collective voice, the right to dispute the untrammelled power of an employer. All these rights came from those six labourers all those years ago.

The Labour leader stated that one of the greatest achievements in this country was the founding 70 years ago of our NHS. Corbyn said he was ashamed that whilst a Tory Government are saying that they’re celebrating the NHS they are actually opposed to it, they’ve underfunded it, they’ve cut it and are planning to privatise it. Jeremy said it’s our Health Service and it’s not for sale, and that a health service, under a future Labour Government, will be publicly owned and properly funded.

He spoke about the health and safety legislation that had been introduced by previous Labour governments with union support, which had saved a lot of lives and brought about a better culture in the workplace.

In making a call for the re-establishment of the Agricultural Wages Board, Jeremy said that the Tolpuddle Martyrs would recognise the poverty of rural areas in Britain today. Devon and Cornwall have the lowest level of wages in Britain.

The Labour Government will also introduce other policies for rural Britain because with the cuts in bus services, lack of house building and underfunding of education many villages and village communities are being hollowed out. He promised that a future Labour Government will invest in better housing and bring in a publicly run bus service that covered all of the country, which included rural Britain

Jeremy said we’ve had austerity running since 2010, which has led to falling wages, falling living standards, underfunding of local councils, underfunding of many of our public services and driven another 400,000 children to live in poverty. Inequality has got worse, with more than 1.3 million people last year using a food bank in an attempt to make ends meet. It’s time, he said, that we close the pay gap between the very rich and the poor, close the gender pay gap, raise the minimum wage and tax properly at the top end of our society; adding that it will require a Labour Government to do all of that.

He then went on to say that the British people want investment in Britain and, as such, a Labour Government will establish a National Investm

ent Bank and seek agreement with the European Union for a trade and a customs union so that we can protect jobs. Jeremy warned us about the rise of racism and fascism. He said we have to be absolutely on our guard against those who would seek to divide us by blaming minorities for the problems of our society. It is up to us to say we will not allow racism of any form in our society, we will not allow anti-Semitism or Islamophobia because we know of the danger it is to all of us

He concluded by saying to the Tories that you can’t do it, you can’t govern, you don’t have any real plan for the future, why not give us all a break and give us an election now!