THOUSANDS cheered as Jeremy Corbyn joined celebrations at the anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs who laid the foundations of Britain’s trade union movement.
The Labour leader addressed the three-day annual festival in Dorset yesterday, following a range of socialist speakers and entertainers celebrating the six farm workers who, in March 1834, tried to form a trade union.
The six were sentenced to transportation to Australia for having the audacity to band together to campaign for better wages and conditions.
Mr Corbyn said: “This festival is an iconic part of the movement for a more democratic, more peaceful and more equal society.
“We come every year to celebrate our rights and how they were won. Celebrate progress of the past — and learn how to make progress in future.
“We recognise the importance of struggle — but at Tolpuddle we can also celebrate the victory. Every single one of the transported workers was returned — victory for them, but also for working people everywhere.”
After the men were sentenced, unions organised a huge campaign to free the them, attracting 100,000 people to a march near Kings Cross the following month.
Their efforts were successful, and, in 1836, the government agreed that all six men should have a full and free pardon.
The Tolpuddle Martyrs’ struggle “sowed the seeds for the trade union movement and in turn for the Labour Party itself,” Mr Corbyn told the crowds, adding that the movement and the party “have been the greatest forces for progress and improvements in people’s lives that this country has ever known.”
Turning to threats facing workers in Britain today, the Labour leader went on to criticise the government’s Taylor report into the gig economy released last week.
“The report is a huge missed opportunity to tackle insecure employment,” he said.
“It’s been wheeled out by the Tories so they can appear as the party of working people. Tinkering round the edges to conceal its lack of substance and lack of solutions.”
He said the next Labour government would go much further than the Taylor report proposed.
“We will create an economy where all workers are treated with respect and dignity,” he said.
“All of the great changes in history have come from below. That is why our party and our movement is based around the power of its members, not the power of the large corporations which bankroll the Tories.
“The Tolpuddle Martyrs remind us that we can change society if we have the will and stay united.”