On March 18th 1834, six farm labourers in Tolpuddle, Dorset England were found guilty of taking an illegal oath and forming a union, the friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers in a backdrop of harsh working conditions.They met at a now world famous Sycamore in Dorset to sign their oath. Under this tree in 1834, exploited by their employers – paid just 9 shillings a week and living in dreadful poverty – formed the first trades union in Britain to bargain for better pay and working conditions under the leadership of George Loveless.This tree is still growing strong.
The landowners, led by James Frampton and supported by the government, were desperate to put a stop to the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent. The Tolpuddle Six were arrested, sent to Dorchester for Trial, charged under the 1797 Mutiny Act. They were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, sentenced to seven years and transported to Botany Bay, simply because they had made a stand against the poor treatment they received from their employees. Support for the Tolpuddle Martyrs was enormous, a massive demonstration marched through London and over 8,000 people signed a petition protesting their sentence.
The protest campaign proved to be a success with the Tolpuddle martyrs returning home in triumph. Their story is about how ordinary working people combined together to defend their lives. The idea of solidarity as a basic human right is now an international demand. The act of solidarity works.
They are commemorated every year at the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival every July, I have been planning to make a pilgrimage for years. Here is a link http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/
We need dissent and incendiary action in this land, now more than ever, to help shape it into a better place.
The Martyrs tree