Not just remembering our roots: Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival 2017

If your batteries need recharging – go to Tolpuddle!

Every third weekend in July is Tolpudde Martyrs Festival.

Tolpuddle, a sleepy village in Dorset, was the site of one of the most celebrated victories of the 19th century trade union movement. When farm labours from the village formed a union, they were charged with swearing an illegal oath and transported to Australia. But following mass demonstrations, a petition of 800,000 signatures and support for the martyrs’ families, this defeat turned into a victory. The trade unionists were pardoned and returned home as free men.

So once a year, the village becomes a lot less sleepy, as thousands celebrate this victory at the festival. But it’s not just about remembering our history, as Jonathan Chipp from UNISON University of Southampton branch outlined:

At Tolpuddle you’ll find genuine celebration of diversity in the context of a strong and active sense of community. That is something much rarer than it should be: a clear and concrete expression of what a better world looks like.

For many UNISON members, Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival is a chance to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, to swap stories and support each other, and to celebrate our vibrant trade union movement. It’s this vibrancy that attendees take back into the workplace when they continue UNISON’s fight for world class public services and a fair deal for those who provide them.

A traditional highlight of the festival is the march through the village. Many UNISON branches in the South East take part, proudly holding their branch banners. Unlike most demonstrations, the march doubles back on itself, so that marchers parade before each other, sharing the diversity and strength of our movement.

This year, as well as the usual bands and speakers and stall, there was a particularly big draw: the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke from the main stage on the Sunday. Corbyn had spoken to huge rallies in Southampton and Bournemouth the day before and didn’t disappoint as Tony Gray from UNISON Hampshire Health explained:

It was the biggest gathering ever seen at Tolpuddle. Hampshire was well represented – a great day, highlighted by the attendance and speech by Jeremy Corbyn.