The 6 Tolpuddle Martyrs remembered

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with a wreath to lay at the grave of James Hammett

Thousands of trades unionists and their families descended on the tiny Dorset village of Tolpuddle, near Dorchester, in July, to celebrate the lives of the six famous farmworkers from the village. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported to Australia in 1834 for administering a secret oath amongst themsleves as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural

Unison members and band on the march through Tolpuddle

Labourers . An early form of a trade union, the Society was in fact legal, but in the eyes of the local landowners and of Squire James Frampton in particular, their real crime was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of 6 shillings a week and to resist it being reduced even further.

With the Swing Rebellion fresh in their minds, the ruling classes were determined to stamp out any form of organised labour ,or sedition as they called it. Spies were employed to get information about the six and the local landowners even sought the advice of Lord Melbourne the Home Secretary in London. The martyrs were sentenced to be transported to Australia for 7 years.

Transportation was brutal, and few ever returned from such a sentence as the long harsh voyage in hulks and the rigours of slavery took their toll. But after the sentence, the working class rose up in support of the six. An 800,000-strong petition was handed in to Parliament and a huge demonstration marched through London. The new trade union movement sustained the families of the men with voluntary donations, and after three years, the government relented and the men returned home with free pardons as heroes.

All the big unions, Unite, Unison, GMB, RMT, NUT, NASWT, ASLEF had large delegations, led in many cases by bands, at the festival. And there were many other smaller delegations. There was also a big contingent from the Kurdish communities in Britain who came with banners, placards, flags and two giant balloons to join in the procession past the thatched cottages of the village. They were demanding freedom for Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish leader and one of the founding members of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, that has been fighting for a separate Kurdish state. Ocalan, who was captured in Kenya in 1999 with the help of the CIA has been held in a Turkish jail since the turn of the century. He remains a leader and is currently putting forward a new initiative for a political solution.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, laid a wreath at the grave of James Hammett, who was the only one of the six to return and live in Tolpuddle. Corbyn gave the main speech in front of the Martyrs cottages, outlining the measures that a Labour government would take to reverse the years of Tory austerity.

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