Friday, July 29, 2022
Thousands of people braved the soaring temperatures to take part in the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival after a two year Covid break and remember the pioneers of the labour movement unjustly transported to Australia in 1834 for setting up a union.
This year we heard rail workers’ leader Mick Lynch and Angela Rayner, the deputy head of the Labour Party, talk about the cost of living crisis and the way forward for the labour movement.
The Tolpuddle spirit has been recalled every year since the Thirties, apart from the second world war and the recent Covid crisis, in the village where the modern union movement began.
In 1834 six agricultural labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They were arrested on charges under an obscure law during a labour dispute against cutting wages and sentenced to penal transportation in Australia. Mass protests led to their pardon in 1836 and they returned to England between 1837 and 1839.
There has been an annual gathering since the 1930s. It began as a Sunday afternoon event with wreaths laid on the grave of one of the Martyrs, James Hammett, followed by a procession of union banners and a rally . Today, the annual event sees thousands of trade unionists from around the world descend on the small village of Tolpuddle, to celebrate the legacy they left behind.
A Martyrs monument was erected in Tolpuddle in 1934, and a sculpture of the martyrs, made in 2001, stands in the village in front of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum.
The annual Tolpuddle Martyrs festival is usually held in the third week of July, organised by the TUC and featuring a parade of banners from many trade unions, a memorial service, speeches and music.