Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reading Trades Union Council at the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival

Jeremy Corbyn MP, leader of the
Labour Party,  leads the Tolpuddle march

On 16 July 2017, five members of the Reading Trades Union Council attended the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival and took part in the annual march through the village: Nikki Dancey and Kevin Brandstatter of GMB, Steve Geary of USDAW, John Partington of TSSA and Keith Jerrome of UNITE. They joined the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn MP, who laid a wreath on the grave of the only martyr who returned to Tolpuddle, James Hammett, and who ended the event with a rousing speech to the thousands of gathered trade unionists.
Steve Geary with the USDAW delegation
From the Tolpuddle Martyrs' Museum (
"As the sun rose on 24th February 1834, Dorset farm labourer George Loveless set off to work, saying goodbye to his wife Betsy and their three children. They were not to meet alone again for three years, for as he left his cottage in the rural village of Tolpuddle, the 37-year-old was served with a warrant for his arrest.
"Loveless and five fellow workers – his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas's son John – were charged with having taken an illegal oath. But their real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week.
"Landowners were determined to stamp out any form of organised protests. So when the local squire and landowner, James Frampton, caught wind of a group of his workers forming a union, he sought to stamp it out.
"Workers met either under the sycamore tree in the village or in the upper room of Thomas Standfield's cottage. Members swore of an oath of secrecy – and it was this act that led to the men's arrest and subsequent sentence of seven years' transportation.

John Partington with the new TSSA banner

"In prison, George Loveless scribbled some words: 'We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!' This rallying call underlined the Martyrs’ determination and has since served to inspire generations of people to fight against injustice and oppression.
"Transportation to Australia was brutal. Few ever returned from such a sentence as the harsh voyage and rigours of slavery took their toll.
"After the sentence was pronounced, the working class rose up in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament protesting about their sentence.
"After three years, during which the trade union movement sustained the Martyrs' families by collecting voluntary donations, the government relented and the men returned home with free pardons and as heroes."

Keith Jerrome, UNITE