Tolpuddle Martyrs anniversary marked

Unite branch to commemorate anniversary of Tolpuddle Martyrs' arrest

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Before sunrise on February 24, 1834, farmworker George Loveless left for work – it would be three years before he would be back with his wife and children again.

George, and five fellow workers – James Brine, James Hammett, James Loveless, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield – were arrested, charged with making an illegal oath and transported to Australia.

They only returned following a public outcry over their treatment. And the real reason for their treatment was that they had made a stand against poor pay and wage cuts by forming a trade union.

To commemorate the 190th anniversary of their arrest, the Unite Tolpuddle Branch, which represents food, drink, agricultural and transport workers across Dorset, will be holding a free event in Tolpuddle Village Hall.

The Martyrs Arrest 190 event will be a chance to hear from speakers and listen to music from local socialist choir, Dorset Red, and singer-songwriter Neil Duncan-Jordan.

Alan Daniels from the branch has also been in touch with a project in Canada, where most of the arrested Martyrs settled after gaining their freedom. The Tolpuddle Martyrs Cemetery Restoration project is in the process of restoring George Loveless’ grave in his final resting place of London, Ontario.

Gayle Young, a descendant of Tolpuddle Martyr John Standfield will be joining the event by Zoom to talk about the project, which started in 2020, when Gayle approached the cemetery to get repair assessment of John Standfield’s grave.

This eventually led to a team forming in support of not just John’s grave but also James Loveless’, who has no gravestone at all, as well George Loveless’ and Thomas Standfield’s graves.

Gayle said, “The Tolpuddle Martyrs were the builders and founders of the original Siloam Wesleyan Methodist Church.

“We are looking forward to this opportunity to share with you and wish you well with the commemoration and thank you for all the preparation you are doing to make this event a success.”

Former farmworker and Unite branch chair John Burbidge drew comparisons between the experience of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and workers today.

John said, “The persecution of the Martyrs links up with our times where there is food insecurity, homelessness and effective huge pay cuts through rising prices in a time of even greater abundance and wealth.”

“The arrests were calculated to create fear and isolation after pay cuts that left workers unable to feed and house their families. Today the government is using the law again to stop workers resisting the massive hit to our living standards for the sake of the same unbridled greed of the same class.”

Unite South West deputy regional Secretary Donna Williams will be speaking at the event.

Commenting, she told UniteLive, “As we reflect on the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ legacy, the struggles of the past continue to resonate with the challenges workers face today as we continue to fight for jobs, pay and conditions.”

The event will place in Tolpuddle Village Hall on Saturday, February 24 from 12.30pm to 3pm.

For more information, please contact Unite branch officer Alan Daniels [email protected]

By Keith Hatch

Pic by Unite Tolpuddle Branch