At the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ rally each July, thousands of workers gather together to remember six Dorchester farm labourers who in 1834 were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for trying to form a trade union. In the last five years members of The Socialist Party have been active at this event, selling literature and putting forward socialist ideas. Once again this year we stood out as the only movement arguing for the complete removal of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. As is usual the left in general presented the case, in one way or another, that we should all content ourselves with the aim of replacing one capitalist government with another.
Bournemouth Branch, the nearest to Tolpuddle. was well supported by members from Islington, Eccles, Guildford and Bristol. One member from the Bristol branch was particularly keen to help out as he first came into contact with socialist ideas at previous Tolpuddle rallies. The fact that it rained for most of the day did little to dampen interest in the ideas we were promoting and as in previous years our stall was certainly among the busiest and even managed to get itself on a local television programme, TV South.
Workers attending these type of events up and down the country and of course many who don’t attend them, are looking for political ideas different from those that in the main were in evidence during the election. Many of those who previously looked to the Labour Party and its left wing allies are particularly open to a growing realisation that these parties no longer offer an alternative, tied as they are to the dogma of a vanguard leadership and state ownership.
One hundred and fifty years after those six farm labourers were transported workers still face state and employer repression for trying to organise and defend themselves. In Britain events in recent years and the kind of trade union legislation which has been passed are proof of this and in many parts of the world workers face far greater repression, including imprisonment and even death, for attempting to organise. The best way to pay a real tribute to workers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs who were involved in the early struggles of the working class movement is not just to organise annual events nor simply to take part in the same struggles over and over again. Certainly workers must organise to defend themselves within capitalism but they must also set their sights on a wider goal, namely to end the system that makes such struggles inevitable.