Saturday, 17 July 2010

Honour Tolpuddle - fight the Tories!

The march at Tolpuddle in 1984, the year of the great miners' strike

Every year the trade union movement remembers one of its founding events, the "martyrdom" in 1834 of six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle, Dorset, transported to Australia for "swearing an illegal oath" - actually, for setting up a trade union.

The cause of the martyrs won so much support - including a march of thousands in Copenhagen Fields, Islington - that they were freed early and returned to a heroes' welcome. Since when Tolpuddle village has been a seemingly unlikely place of pilgrimage for fans of trade unionism, there is even a small museum there.

Around this time, each year, South West region of the TUC organises a festival, which keeps growing in size and popularity. Now it comprises camping and training events as well as the traditional parade and speechifying on the Sunday.

The demonstration on that day, when trade unionists from all over the country - and sometimes abroad - walk in a loop up the road through the village and then back down the other side, allowing everyone to see everyone else at least once, is a very moving event.

The musical entertainment once this is over is often very good, as well, but the speechifying can rather get up one's nose, as trade union leaders who have no intention of leading any kind of struggle whatsoever, and are earning several times what their members earn, sing the praises of the hapless George Loveless and his band. There is an old-fashioned and appropriate term for people like this: Sunday socialist. A more up-to-date version would be: they just don't get it.

I'm not going to Tolpuddle this year, because I can't afford too much time away. Those that are there I urge to enjoy the sunshine while they can, because we've a hell of a task ahead of us. And ask the trade union leaders why they won't lead a fight against the government's policies. Honour the Tolpuddle martyrs? The only appropriate way is to fight the Tories!

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