AROUND 10,000 people attended the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs celebration in Dorset last Sunday.
The festival marked the 170th anniversary of the “transportation” of six local men, sent into exile in Australia for daring to organise a trade union.
A really good mixture of trade unionists and anti-war activists attended.
The usual parade of government ministers and top trade union bureaucrats spoke from the platform, but got a muted response from the crowd because they had so little to say of any real relevance.
International development secretary Hilary Benn and home office minister Hazel Blears had nothing to say about the anti-union laws or about the war and occupation in Iraq.
And nothing they said really connected with the concerns of the crowd or with the union and campaign stalls that surrounded the arena.
On those stalls you got a real sense of a revival of rank and file trade unionism, connecting to wider politics.
That’s also why the twentieth anniversary of the miners’ strike T-shirt sold out, and why the leaflets for the European Social Forum went as fast we could hand them out.
One of the biggest rounds of applause was for folk group the Oyster Band.
They started their set by announcing that they used to get invited to perform at the Labour Party conference “before they all wore suits”—but that the band hadn’t been invited back there for a while.