In 1834, farms workers formed a trade union which is now part of the development of a free and democratic society under the Declaration on Human Rights Article 23. Their achievement is celebrated throughout the year in the small museum in Tolpuddle and at the festival on the weekend of the third Sunday in July. We left the festival we were at to travel to Dorset to join other activists at the crucible of the UK Trade Union movement for the free day on Sunday of music, socialism, talks, activism, and the annual march from the Martyrs Museum through the small village of Tolpuddle.
For those who have felt worn down by the current political climate, and shocked by the actions of Israel in Palestine, the increasing cuts to workers rights, the proposed changes to the right to strike, the lack of a fair living wage, and the government's current proposal to abandon the Human Rights Act this festival was a chance to recharge your batteries, realise you're not alone and feel invigorated by speakers who are impassioned about improving society.
There were other causes to, Stop The War, stop culling badgers, greener farming practices, better energy solutions and the like, and a few more fervent socialists and a growing number of anarchists, hard times are drawing out hard liners.
The weather was warm, the drinks flowed from the bar, and the live music was uplifting from acts like the brilliantly amusing Robb Johnson, Namvula, the lively punkette Louise Distras (a young Suzi Quattro), the harmonious Union Jill, Bristol's Red Notes Choir, and the surprisingly good Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, with a career spanning set of favourites and good new tunes too. Paul it seems is quite political, I hadn't known this and provides good talk between his well worked songs. The day was climaxed with the lively The Men They Couldn't Hang, whilst in the sweltering heat of the Martyrs Marquee MC Tatty Smart brought us the rather good old American banjo music with East Creek Union, as well as the sweet folk songs of duo Lazibyrd, and to offset them the dark folk musings of Cruel Folk.
This year there seemed to be a few more catering options, all reasonably priced and the campsite whilst sold out, camping is paid for, seemed to have more space within it. The Worker's Beer Company brought a decent selection of ales, cider and lager for a well valued price.
The facilities were in good order, although the drinking water tap between the marquee and the open arena was well hidden, there were lots of recycling options for waste, and even showers with minimal queues. Of course for kids and the kelptomaniacs there are a host of stalls to peruse, offering armfuls of freebies from flages and whistles, to sunglasses, whistles, figurines, badges, stickers, leaflets, and shirts. Unfortunately the 'Free Palestine' shirts had gone like hot cakes with only small ones left by the time I reached the stall.
The main highlight of Sunday is the march to Tolpuddle and back is an incredibly uplifting affair, there's thousands here. And if the march was uplifting the speaches remembering Tony Benn, and Bob Crow, were moving.
The young Owen Jones appears to have taken up the baton left by Benn, and makes a moving speech about what Trade Unionism means to society and what we should be fighting for as the applause gets louder. Mohammad Taj also communicates well, as does Labour MEP for the South West Clare Moody, although her need to have a pop at UKIP is perhaps out of place here.
Brazilian Antonio de Lisboa Amancio Vale and the fervent Ivan Monkton bring home to us how lucky we are to not be lolling in a prison without charge for our beliefs in a better fairer society. South West TUC Chair Rosie MacGregor and organiser Nigel Costley join them all for a show of support from the crowd for Palestine and a plea to stop the bloodshed.
It's a surprisingly revitalising day of politics and music, and I remember when more festivals were like this. Festivals that fostered environment, freedom, fairness and an atmosphere full of generosity of spirit.
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