Honouring the Tolpuddle Martyrs

By Jean Lane

No Sweat was once more at the Tolpuddle Festival this year. Organised by the South West TUC, this is the annual celebration of the men who fought to set up a trade union, in their a tiny Dorset village in 1830.

The Tolpuddle martyrs were deported to Australia for organising against the driving down of the wages of agricultural labourers in their area, wages which were already at starvation level.

For many years the celebration took the form of a march through the Tolpuddle village on a Sunday afternoon. Now it is a much bigger affair: a weekend of music, dance, meetings, stalls, kids activities, food and drink and, of course, the march on Sunday afternoon.

At the event No Sweat held a well-attended meeting about solidarity with Iraqi trade unions, with Eva Jasiewicz speaking. Ewa gave a personal account of her experiences in Iraq where she met the Southern Oil Company workers who have successfully fought for better wages and conditions, despite the continuation of Saddam's anti-union laws.

A a War On Want meeting, an 11-year-old domestic worker from Bolivia told us about her working conditions, her wages and her life. She was one of the lucky ones, we were told. She lives with her family near her employers house and goes home after a 12- or 13-hour shift. Others sleep on the floor in the house and don't see their families at all. Many of are treated, essentially, like slaves.

Maya came with an organisation which helps organise young women and girls to improve and defend their working conditions, to get time for education and for play and which protects them against sexual exploitation which is rife.

Throughout the weekend, No Sweat held a stall with all our propaganda, petitions and t-shirts, though it was very noticeable this year that a sizeable number of people turned up at the village on Friday already wearing the t-shirts they bought last year! No Sweat was very visible throughout the weekend.

On the Saturday, we held some 'not-very-fair-trade-Olympics' - bosses against the workers - in which the bosses got up to some very dirty tricks to ensure that they won, as they do. To their credit, the kids who got involved did not want to be on the side of the bosses. And, to their even greater credit, when they saw the bosses winning by foul means, they did not switch sides. Instead, they stole the bosses' money - slush funds for paying off stewards. They planned some dirty tricks of their own like cutting the bottom out of their sack in the sack race so they could lift it up to their waist and win the race. And they organised together to defeat the bosses in sheer numbers. The tug-of-war was a resounding defeat for the puny bosses.

On Saturday night, in the big marquee, a play was put on telling the story of the martyrs which was accompanied with much hissing and booing of the landlords, judges and scabs, and much cheering of the workers and their families.

The play was very much like the kind of thing No Sweat have raised funds for. Organisations like CAT in Puebla, Mexico put travelling plays on for the villages which supply workers to the maquila factories making garments for the huge label companies like Puma.

Tolpuddle festival is a good event which young socialists and new trade unionists would really enjoy and which, with the help of organisations like No Sweat, can be very educational at the same time.

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Tolpuddle Martyrs

Graham Padden, who edited Tolpuddle - An Historical Account through the Eyes of George Loveless for the TUC, has published his play about the Tolpuddle story The Wrong End of the World, which was produced at Salisbury Playhouse in 1987 Details can be found at http://padden.members.beeb.net