Thousands of trade unionists left this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival on Sunday buoyed by a renewed determination to protect public services.

Tim Lezard

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber addressing the crowd at Tolpuddle. Image © Karen Hatch.

THOUSANDS of trade unionists left this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival on Sunday buoyed by a renewed determination to protect public services.

Displaying the same defiance as the six farm workers deported 177 years ago, banner-carrying members of all trade unions from all parts of the country marched through the rural Dorset village to send a strong message to Downing Street: stop the cuts!

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber led the fightback, saying: “This government is carrying out savage cuts in public spending, whatever the consequences. They say it’s a price worth paying, even if that price is 100,000 jobs in the services we all rely on.

“But there is an alternative: I’m confident we shall see the return of a Labour government committed to decent values and justice for the British people and it’s the spirit of Tolpuddle that will make it happen.”

"It gets better and bigger each year" - Billy Bragg. Image © Karen Hatch.

Unite general secretary Len McClusky said: “This rally represents all that is good about our movement. These are building blocks for a better world because everyone benefits from strong trade unions.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International TUC, drew huge cheers from the crowd when she passed on solidarity greetings from trade unionists around the globe.

“From 115m people around the world, I say: ‘We salute your courage to stand up to this government – congratulations!

“The right are trying to turn us against each other, public sector against private sector. They are trying to undo the very basis of common good – the welfare society – that we fought for for ages. You stand tall and we’ll stand with you. Your fight is our fight.”

More banners than ever filled the narrow village street. Image © Karen Hatch.

Tony Benn received a standing ovation when he took the stage, saying:
“The Tolpuddle Martyrs said ‘We will, we will, we will be free’, which is something that has been said for centuries. We said it when the Romans came in 55BC, when the Normans came in 1066 – we have always wanted the freedom to govern ourselves.

“We don’t want to be controlled by a handful of people who have all the wealth. This year will be recorded as a year when people realised they need each other if they are going to make a difference.”

Encouraging people to become involved in their trade unions and their communities, he urged: “Pessimism is our worst enemy. If we reject the pessimism, as the Tolpuddle Martyrs did, then we will win. Their spirit is alive today. Good luck!”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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