TOLPUDDLE MARTYRS FESTIVAL 2022
In these times of intense austerity it is important to remember those activists from times past who bravely stood against the tyranny of capitalist exploitation aided by the ruling class. On the 15th July The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival returns. State Terrorisation of socialists, and trades unionists such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs continues today with Pritti Patel’s new laws designed to scare people away from participating in collective activism. This Tory government know their policies will lead the working class to use their only weapon, strike action, to challenge them. In the 19th century employers believed they had carte blanche to pay workers what they wanted. When the six agricultural workers, The Tolpuddle Martyrs, formed their friendly society they made it clear that they would not work for less than ten shillings a week, the employers cut wages to seven shillings per week and were proposing to cut to five shillings a week. The activism led to the state using arcane legislation to their deportation to Australia as common criminals. 800,000 people marched in London a year later in one of the biggest demonstrations in history up to that date and the sentences were overturned. The Trade Union and Labour movement owes a massive debt to these workers who stood up to their oppressors, and it is right to celebrate their memory. I find it interesting that today the modern Labour Party offers little solace or support to workers whose pay has been decimated by over a decade of austerity and pay cuts, especially in the service sectors. It is encouraging to see trade unionists making a stand as the economy is careering into recession. We all look across the myriad of social media platforms and see disenchanted socialists who’ve left the Labour Party or been expelled, as they call for an alternative party of the Left. This is proving tricky as there are entrenched historic ideological differences between the existing left groupings. Attempts to pull together a socialist alliance to challenge Labour as an electoral alternative have failed time and again throughout my 75 years of existence. To be frank I get pissed off at the constant nitpicking about which group has the correct line. Starmer and the extreme centre, the Tories, the CIA, and all the capitalist shits across the planet love it when the Left tear lumps out of each other instead of focusing on the Neo Liberal enemies in Parliament. In my view it is sad that the Jeremy Corbyn leadership was attacked so viciously by right wing and extreme centrists within the Labour Party. The administration, the bulk of the PLP and elements of the traditional labour movement conspired to bring about the failure of those of us worked so hard to make the For The Many Not The Few manifesto a reality. That manifesto was clearly popular with large sections of the electorate, as the 2017 election result clearly demonstrates. I worked hard in Ceredigion CLP as chair but, following the 2019 debacle when centrists conspired to bring about the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn, and then, in 2020, withdrew the parliamentary whip from him, I could, in all honesty, no longer remain in a party that behaved so despicably and in June 2020 I resigned from the Labour Party. I joined Left Unity Wales in September 2020 and am still a member. I am now one of 4 comrades from Wales on the National Executive Committee of Left Unity. As I see it this Tory government are still in power in large part because the extreme centre did not support LOTO and the manifesto drawn up by the Labour Party Membership. Now we see a government in crisis with a Starmer led opposition not able to offer even a modicum of support for trade unionists on strike fighting for a fairer deal in the teeth of the cost of living crisis. This is why large gatherings of socialists and trade union activists at events such as the Durham Miners Gala, Levellers Day, and The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival are important for a a variety of reasons. I believe one of the most important of these is the affirmation of the importance of collective action against injustice inflicted upon workers. It is good for activists to know that they are not alone, that there is collective strength. The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival takes place on 15th – 17th July. As the RMT, UNITE, and other unions stand firm with their members in struggle against the awful government such gatherings bring us all together. This weekend many of us involved in the fight for peace, justice and equality will be there organising together for a socialist future. LIVE, HOPE, ACT.
Harry Rogers, 13/07/2022
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