Jeremy Corbyn praised Unite’s Landworker magazine as part of his speech encompassing rural issues at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset yesterday (July 21).
Holding aloft a copy of the centenary edition of the Landworker, which has been continuously published since 1919, Corbyn paid homage to the publication’s long history, saying he remembered seeing the magazine as a young man and praising its “important” role in providing a voice for rural workers.
The Labour leader went on to say that the Conservatives do not represent the interests of rural communities, warning that Tory threats to leave the EU without a deal will cause “devastation” for the agricultural sector.
“A Conservative government taking us off the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit would be a direct attack on rural communities, which could cause devastation on the same scale as the Thatcher government’s attack on mining communities in the 1980s,” Corbyn said.
“The Conservative Party has pitched itself as the party of farming and rural communities, but pursuing a reckless No Deal shows the lie to this. No Deal would devastate our agricultural sector, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, and see us reduced to eating chlorinated chicken from the US.”
Earlier in the day, Unite regional secretary for the South West, Steve Preddy, told the crowd that the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival was a “premier celebration for my union: The union of rural and agricultural workers”.
Unite SW regional secretary Steve Preddy with Jeremy Corbyn
Paying homage to the achievements of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and other historic trade unionists over “more than one and a half centuries”, Preddy said there was a direct link between them and present-day activists fighting against injustices within the workplace.
“Unions are more relevant now than they have ever been. The people I work with, it is my honour to work with. My officers, the staff and above all the lay activists: the thousands of volunteers who every day and every week of their working lives give everything voluntarily for people in work,” Preddy said.
“They are today’s martyrs because they face the indignity of assaults by hostile employers everyday – that should never be forgotten. A future Labour government must be empowered to restore equality at the bargaining table and employment rights to workers in this country.”
The annual march celebrating trade unionism through the main street of Tolpuddle, which is lined with thatched cottages and surrounded by bucolic countryside, was led by dozens of Unite members wearing t-shirts bearing the original horse and plough insignia of the National Union of Agricultural Workers.
Farm worker and Unite rural and agricultural member Steve Leniec joined Jeremy Corbyn and others in laying a wreath at the graveside of Tolpuddle Martyr James Hammett at the village’s St John’s church.
Unite agricultural sub-sector chair, farmworker Steve Leniec lays wreath for agricultural workers
Hammett was the only one from the six agricultural workers, who were transported to Australia in 1834 for trying to start a trade union, to return to live in Tolpuddle after their release.
Pics by Mark Thomas