Tolpuddle: The Beating Heart and Soul of the Labour Movement

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Bridgwater Trades Council banner at Tolpuddle 2014

Tolpuddle is the beating heart and soul of the Labour movement. It’s that part of Middle Earth where socialists go to get recharged before being released back into their communities to fight the good fight reinvigorated.

The importance of Tolpuddle and it’s annual festival, is that it celebrates the origins of the Labour movement, the bitter fight to legalise Trades Unions and the common cause of the working class. It reminds socialists why we’re fighting still, reminds the Labour Party why the Trades Unions established it to represent them in Parliament and reminds all workers of all left parties that to win we have to be united.

The SWP agrees. ‘Get the Tories out!’

Past Struggles Remembered

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were 6 Dorsetshire farm labourers who, led by George Loveless, took the brave decision to form a Trade Union despite the dangers that posed at the time. The reaction by employers and magistrates was swift and brutal with instant arrest, imprisonment and seven years transportation to Australia.

Their cause was crucial to the establishment of Trades Unions and the ability for the working class to organise itself politically and industrially for the first time. The Martyrs cause became the cause of the developing Labour Movement. While they laboured in chain gangs in penal settlements where their status was that of slaves, back home the rapidly organising Labour Movement campaigned not just for their release but for their pardon and in doing so created a whole new world of Labour v Capital relations. Demonstrations shook the ruling class and the issue was thrust before Parliament until eventually they were fully pardoned and granted back their freedoms.

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The Somerset Communist Party stall at Tolpuddle. The CP urge a Labour vote as the only way to get out the hated Tories and their pamphlets explain why they take this pragmatic stance.

The Tolpuddle Festival and rally became a regular commemoration of the Martyrs place in history and concludes each year with a march through the village with Trades Unions proudly displaying their banners.

Tributes to Tony Benn and Bob Crow

South West TUC secretary Nigel Costley is the man credited with reviving the Tolpuddle commemoration after it’s appeal started to fade with the defeatism of the early 1990’s and he remains today a key organiser and presence at the event. Nigel has written extensively on the subject and in a recent tribute to Tolpuddle veteran Tony Benn he recalled Tony saying “Every generation has the same battles again and again, no issue is finally won and no issue is finally lost.”

This years Tolpuddle festival was a three day affair with mixed weather on offer but on the final ‘free’ Sunday the heavens opened up..with sunshine. Thanks Tony.

Bridgwater on the Tolpuddle trail

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Bridgwater Labour Cllr Julian Taylor and wife Mary at Tolpuddle. The Taylor’s were victims of the winter floods and constant campaigners for it;s victims.

We took a minibus from Bridgwater including Trades Unionists, Labour Party members, socialist activists and a visiting Norweigian for good internationalist measure.

For some it was the first visit. For others the first visit for a long time. For everyone it was an inspiration and a chance to recharge your batteries in a comradely environment.

With an election less than a year away the Labour party needs to get it’s act in gear and a common theme from speakers was to work towards a Labour Election victory. Speakers proclaiming this weren’t booed and there seemed a general recognition that this indeed had to be the strategy. At a festival where other ‘left’ parties were present and likely to be standing in elections the realisation is hopefully dawning on people that for Labour to win people have to vote for them and if you vote for another left party –Green or TUSC or whoever, then that’s a wasted anti-Tory vote.

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A lone beacon on a far horison. Newly elected Labour MEP for the South West, Claire Moody takes the stage at Tolpuddle.

Recently Labour won back one of the South West European MEP seats and one of Sunday’s keynote speakers was the victorious Claire Moody , a UNITE activist and whose speech stressed the common cause of Labour and the Unions. A message that needs to be central to Labour’s election campaign.

Inspiring speeches came from Bradford bus driver Mohamed Taj proclaiming ‘Free Free Palestine’ as the crowd held aloft ‘Free Palestine flags’, and Brazilian Trades Union leader Antonio de Lisboa Amancia Vale, sending solidarity from Sao Paolo to Gaza via Tolpuddle.

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Murray Shepstone from Yeovil Labour Party, recharging his batteries with comrade Sue Pitman after a hard fought by-election campaign in his constituency last week

With no Tony Benn or Bob Crow on the stage this year the hardest hitting speech came from Owen Jones the 29 year old Sheffield Socialist described as ‘the most influential left wing speaker of 2013’ . So 2014 and still going strong.

And sometimes music speaks louder than words. Paul Heaton , ex Housemartins and Beautiful South, with his penultimatum position on the main stage, managed to be both self deprecating and musically inspiring at the same time. At one point listing the people in his ‘industry’ who had recently been fingered for tax avoidance and suggesting an appropriate sentence for Tory voting tax dodger Gary Barlow, might be doing community service at ‘Heaton Acres’.

As the strains of the Men they couldn’t Hang doing the ‘Ghosts of Cable street’ we headed off back to Bridgwater. Recharged, Re-inspired and Red. And not just with sunburn.

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