Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Report from recent Tolpuddle march and festival

This year's Tolpuddle martyrs festival in Dorset took place in the extreme heat but that didn't dampen the spirits of those who attended.

Around 1,000 people turned up for the weekend to celebrate trade unionism and the memory of the Tolpuddle martyrs, which was a significant step up from last year. Many more then joined us for the Sunday.

Over 130 copies of the Socialist were sold and several thousand NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network) leaflets were distributed demanding that the TUC call a 24-hour general strike.

Many people signed the NSSN petition and said that they would attend the lobby of the September TUC congress in Bournemouth.

There was also a lot of interest in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which shows that many trade unionists no longer see Labour as the electoral alternative.

With recent pronouncements by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls accepting Tory austerity policies and questioning Labour's link with the trade unions, many activists are having to accept for the first time that Labour no longer represents workers' interests in any way.

This potentially opens up the possibility of major unions ending their affiliation with Labour and looking for new ways to achieve political representation.

After the traditional march through the village of Tolpuddle on the Sunday afternoon, we heard various speeches including from Labour MP Sadiq Kahn who struggled to raise any applause.

The new TUC general secretary (and first ever woman in the job), Frances O'Grady, said that the TUC would support workers who wanted to take industrial action, "up to and including coordinated action" but she stopped short of calling for a general strike against austerity.

Finally, we heard from veteran former Labour MP, Tony Benn, now 88 years old. He said that he was against protests which just register our disagreement with government policy - workers should instead demand that the policies be changed.

With the horrendous policies of Cameron and Clegg causing untold suffering for millions of ordinary people in Britain, the labour movement is starting to come to life after years of relative passivity.

At a traditional trade union event like the Tolpuddle festival, you can really feel the solidarity and everyone goes home feeling re-energised and ready to continue the struggle.

By Kyle Williamson (East London Socialist Party) and Matt Carey (Bristol South Socialist Party)

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