By Robert Laurie
One hundred and seventy five years ago, in 1834, six farm labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset were transported to Australia for daring to form a trade union. Mass protests calling for their release took place. One of these was the 100,000 strong "Grand Demonstration" which took place that year from Copenhagen Fields in north London to present a 200,000 signature petition to Parliament before a rally at Kennington Common in south London. The Government bowed to mass pressure and five of the martyrs were released in 1836 and the sixth freed the following year.
An annual TUC sponsored march and festival is held in Tolpuddle in July. But this year commemorations kicked off early with a new festival in London.
It began, last Saturday, near the original starting point of that historic march that launched the campaign which eventually led to the men's release. Following a march to a small community park, Islington mayor Stefan Kasprzyk opened the proceedings before an number of folk singers, including Billy Bragg entertained the crowd.
Local Labour MP Emily Thornberry and TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady addressed the crowds which enjoyed the warm sunshine. Chris Kaufman, National Secretary of Unite the Union's Agricultural section (pictured) spoke about present day conditions for agricultural workers. While much has been improved, including the abolition of tied cottages, the life of present day agricultural workers is still a hard one.