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Year 2010 No. 35, July 21, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

2010 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival:

Remember the Martyrs! Fight for the Rights of All!

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

2010 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival:
Remember the Martyrs! Fight for the Rights of All!

The Martyrs' Story

Karl Marx on the Reform Act of 1832

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2010 Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival:

Remember the Martyrs! Fight for the Rights of All!

In 1832, the year of the Liberal Reform Act, six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, although by this time wages had been reduced to seven shillings a week and were due to be further reduced to six shillings. The society, led by George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, met in the house of Thomas Standfield.

In 1834 James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to complain about the union, invoking an obscure law from 1797 prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other, which the members of the Friendly Society had done. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, George's brother James Loveless, George's brother in-law Thomas Standfield, and Thomas's son John Standfield were arrested, found guilty, and transported to Australia.

This period following the 1832 Reform Act, passed in order to attempt to divert the revolutionary movement, then saw the beginning of the growth of the independent movement of the working class with the founding of the Chartists in 1835.

The 2010 Tolpuddle Festival was held from July 16-18, culminating in a huge demonstration through the streets of Tolpuddle on the Sunday. Activists of RCPB(ML) participated, distributing the Workers’ Daily which declares in opposition to the Con-Dem Coalition’s mantra of "freedom, fairness and responsibility" that "We Are Not All in this Together!" The Festival represented the spirit of the working class to take up the fight for the rights of all, to oppose all the assaults on the working people that are being escalated by the government, and to take up responsibility for the fate of society. It is the spirit that "An Injury to One Is An Injury to All!" that was upheld in 1832 and is remembered and fought for 178 years later.

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The Martyrs' Story


As the sun rose on 24th February 1834, Dorset farm labourer George Loveless set off to work, saying goodbye to his wife Betsy and their three children. They were not to meet alone again for three years, for as he left his cottage in the rural village of Tolpuddle, the 37-year-old was served with a warrant for his arrest.

Loveless and five fellow workers – his brother James, James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas's son John – were charged with having taken an illegal oath. But their real crime in the eyes of the establishment was to have formed a trade union to protest about their meagre pay of six shillings a week – the equivalent of 30p in today's money and the third wage cut in as many years.

With the bloody French Revolution and the wrecking of the Swing Rebellion fresh in the minds of the British establishment, landowners were determined to stamp out any form of organised protests. So when the local squire and landowner, James Frampton, caught wind of a group of his workers forming a union, he sought to stamp it out.

Workers met either under the sycamore tree in the village or in the upper room of Thomas Standfield's cottage. Members swore of an oath of secrecy – and it was this act that led to the men's arrest and subsequent sentence of seven years' transportation.

In prison, George Loveless scribbled some words: "We raise the watchword, liberty. We will, we will, we will be free!" This rallying call underlined the Martyrs’ determination and has since served to inspire generations of people to fight against injustice and oppression.

Transportation to Australia was brutal. Few ever returned from such a sentence as the harsh voyage and rigours of slavery took their toll.

After the sentence was pronounced, the working class rose up in support of the Martyrs. A massive demonstration marched through London and an 800,000-strong petition was delivered to Parliament protesting about their sentence.

After three years, during which the trade union movement sustained the Martyrs' families by collecting voluntary donations, the government relented and the men returned home with free pardons and as heroes.

The story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the campaign that freed them inspires us to fight on. The annual festival reflects the spirit of those prepared to stand up and be counted and for those just learning about the history it is a joyful celebration of our solidarity.

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Karl Marx on the Reform Act of 1832

The ejection of Wellington from office, because he had declared against Reform; the French Revolution of July; the threatening political unions formed by the middling and working classes at Birmingham, Manchester, London, and elsewhere; the rural war; the "bonfires" all over the most fertile counties of England ("Out of the fires came the Reform," says a celebrated writer) – all these circumstances absolutely compelled the Whigs to propose some measure of Reform. It was their only means of rushing into office. They gave way grudgingly, slowly, and after vainly reiterated efforts at one time to shuffle out of the only liberal clauses of their own measure, and again to abandon it altogether, and to keep their places by a compromise with the Tories. They were prevented by the formidable attitude of the people, and the uncompromising opposition of the Tories. Hardly, however, had the Reform Bill become law, and begun to work, when to quote Mr Bright’s words, "the people began to feel that they had been cheated." Never, perhaps, had a mighty, and, to all appearances, successful popular movement been turned into such a mock result. Not only were the working classes altogether excluded from any political influence, but the middle classes themselves discovered that Lord Althorp, the soul of the Reform cabinet, had not used a rhetorical figure when telling his Tory adversaries that "the Reform Bill was the most aristocratic act ever offered to the nation."

The new country representation still largely preponderated over that of the towns. The franchise of the tenants-at-will occupying at an annual value of £50, rendered the counties, still more efficiently than before, the tools of the aristocracy. The substitution of the £10 householders for the payers of scot and lot, actually disfranchised a great number of former town voters. The new arrangements were, on the whole, calculated not for increasing middle-class influence, but for the exclusion of Tory and the promotion of Whig patronage. By a series of the most extraordinary tricks, frauds, and juggles, the inequality of the electoral districts was maintained, the monstrous disproportion between representation and constituency reconstructed. If some fifty-six rotten boroughs, each with a handful of inhabitants, were extinguished, whole counties and populous towns were transformed into rotten boroughs. Lord John Russell himself confesses, in his letter to the electors of Stroud, on the principles of the Reform Act, that "the £10 franchise was fettered by regulation, and the annual registration was made a source of vexation and expense." Intimidation and patronage, where they could not be perpetuated, were replaced by bribery, which, from the passage of the Reform Bill, became the main prop of the British Constitution.

(Karl Marx, "Lord John Russell", Marx and Engels on Britain, 2nd edition, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1962, pp451-453)

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