By Nick Holden
This year's Tolpuddle Festival is on Friday 18-Sunday 20 July, at Tolpuddle, Dorset. It is a heady mixture of music, drama and politics, uniting people across the country in a celebration of the trade union movement, and the memory of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
Last year's event was a record success, with more than 7,000 people from all over the UK joining in the festivities, and expectations are high for 2003.
The six Tolpuddle Martyrs were farm labourers, paid nine shillings a week and living in dreadful poverty. Their leader, George Loveless, set up a union to give the labourers bargaining strength.
The landowners, led by James Frampton and supported by the government, were determined to squash unions and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent. The landowner magistrates found a way of trapping and punishing the Martyrs, using two anti-union laws.
The men were betrayed by one of their fellow labourers, tried at Dorchester Assizes in March 1834, found guilty of "administering an unlawful oath" [to the union], and sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia. The harshness of their treatment caused public outcry.
On 21 April 1834, one month after the trial, a procession of 35 unions, organised by the Metropolitan Trades Unions, marched to Whitehall to present a massive 200,000 signature petition to Lord Melbourne against the injustice.
Five Martyrs were shipped in appalling conditions to New South Wales, where they were assigned as convict labour to landowners. George Loveless, delayed by illness, later went in chains to Tasmania. Public pressure resulted in the men being pardoned by the King. Months passed before instructions to free the men reached the Australian authorities.
The men did not return to England until three years after the infamous trial.
The festival this year
Highlights include Billy Bragg, Pato Banton's Reggae Revolution, and a song-and-spoken-word show from Tony Benn and Roy Bailey. On Sunday, thousands will march through the streets of Tolpuddle with banners and bands.
There are plenty of activities for children, and a beer tent run by the Workers' Beer Company. Camping places will be available for £20, and can be purchased from the South West TUC office on 0117 947 0521.
- No Sweat will be taking a minibus to the Festival from London, travel and camping for £35. Telephone 07904 431959 to book your place.