25 Jul 2008

Greens at Tolpuddle

Various friends joined the Tolpuddle Martyr's annual festival - see here - and see more re history and museum here. On February 24th, 1834, six farm labourers from the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were arrested on a charge of taking part in an 'illegal oath' ceremony.

Photo: Derek Wall, Green party Principal Speaker with Ricky leading this part of the march - and below Derek delivering a speech to the festival

The real offence was that they had dared to form a trade union to defend their livelihood. For this they were sentenced to seven years' transportation to the penal colonies of Australia. The sentences provoked an immense outcry, leading to the first great mass trade union protest. The campaign won free pardons and the Martyrs' return to England. A historic episode in the struggle for trade unionists' rights in Great Britain. To commemorate the bravery of the martyrs' struggle against poverty and authority, this annual festival features music, speakers and family entertainment. Here's Ricky's letter:

Dear Sir,

It is a sad fact that there are now more families living in poverty in the UK than during the divisive days of Thatcher. The minimum wage, achieved after prolonged impasse, is just that – a bare minimum. As the cost of essentials, energy, food, utilities, rocket, as house-prices collapse yet the cost of a mortgage doesn’t, this bare minimum is leading to real hardship.

Despite this part of England being a tourist haven, a wonderful place to retire to and a magnet for potential second-home owners, there would appear to be very little “trickle-down” of the wealth brought into the area; rural wages remain very low, the cost of living is spiralling and many families are having to struggle just to get by.

Last week, many of us would have passed colleagues, friends, neighbours standing on the picket-line, stoically representing their demand for a fair wage. They cannot vote for their own increase like MP’s, they cannot bring the country to its knees because of complete reliance on the delivery of petrol, they cannot book an appointment with the boss. They have to rely on their Trade Union.

Anyone who has ever been forced to take strike action, and this includes the police, nurses, teachers, firemen, knows that once you go on strike, the level of public support for your cause plummets. Who’s going to protect us from crime, look after the infirm, teach the kids, put out the fire? It is never an easy choice to go on strike, not just because of the loss of pay, not just because it sets worker against worker sometimes – but because workers do not like NOT doing the work they are employed to do.

These points and others were well made by Tony Benn in his key-note speech at Tolpuddle last weekend. Members of the South West Green Party proudly made their way to Dorset for this extraordinary annual commemorative event, this year more popular than ever, to join fellow Trade Unionists and work place activists from all over the world. The Green Party Principal Male Speaker, Dr Derek Wall, was one of the guest speakers on the Sunday.

It was for daring to ask for more, that the six Tolpuddle Martyrs were put on trial, imprisoned and then deported to Australia as convicts. It was their subsequent pardon that led to the growth of our Trade Union movement, which has been campaigning ever since for workers' rights, a fair wage and improved conditions. Tolpuddle was a fitting place to be after the two days of action undertaken nationally by members of the public service Unions. Improved pay and conditions will never be offered – they have to fought for, continually.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Ricky Knight - Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for North Devon
South West Green Party Lead Candidate for 2009 European Elections

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