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Tolpuddle – a cause for celebration. PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Boardman   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 23:39

This coming weekend (18 – 20 July) thousands of people from across the UK and beyond will be gathering in the small Dorset village of Tolpuddle, to celebrate trade unionism and to remember the sacrifice made by the six farm workers of the village.
In the 1830s life in villages like Tolpuddle was hard and getting worse. Farm workers could not bear yet more cuts to their pay. Some fought back by smashing the new threshing machines but this brought harsh punishments.

In 1834, farm workers in west Dorset formed a trade union. Unions were lawful and growing fast but six leaders of the union were arrested and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for taking an oath of secrecy. A massive protest swept across the country. Thousands of people marched through London and many more organised petitions and protest meetings to demand their freedom.
The protest campaign proved successful and the Tolpuddle Martyrs returned home in triumph. The Tolpuddle story is about how ordinary working people combined together to defend their families. The idea of solidarity as a basic human right is now an international demand.
The advantage of being a member of a trade union is still very strong. Trade union members are paid on average almost £4,000 a year more than non-union members according to the latest government statistics https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/313768/bis-14-p77-trade-union-membership-statistical-bulletin-2013.pdf .
But there's more to this than wages. Unionised workers have better working conditions, shift and overtime premia, holiday entitlement, sick pay, paternity pay, pensions, and most important of all job security.
This basic right of workers to act together, to fight injustice has been attacked time and time again by the Conservative Party. As we continue to face austerity under their economic policies, they are plotting once again to restrict collective action and to tip the balance even further in favour of employers.
I was pleased to learn that the Trade Union Group of MPs http://www.tradeuniongroup.com/
has been re-launched to push the political agenda on to the side of working people.
I was surprised, but also pleased to read that Guy Opperman, the Tory MP for Hexham, has praised trade unions and admitted that he “despairs” at the Conservative Party’s constant attacks on them.
Speaking to the conference of Tory moderniser think tank Bright Blue, Opperman said:
“I despair when people say unions are terrible, they are not terrible, they are the ultimate Big Society.”


By John Boardman
Trade Union Liaison Officer Pendle CLP


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