VISITORS and union representatives from across the country attended this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival.

There was time for reflection as well as celebration over the weekend as union stalwarts were remembered.

Following on from strikes earlier this month, when public sector workers and teachers took action over pay and pensions, trade unionists gathered at the South West TUC-organised event to take part in debates and discussions about where trade unions go next.

The festival programme featured a vast array of music, political and union speakers and other entertainment, but also a chance to pay tribute to Tony Benn, Bob Crow and Ernie Amey.

The main event, which took place today (Sunday), included the procession, wreath-laying and speeches.

Organisers said that this year boasted one of largest processions the festival had ever seen, with thousands of people attending.

Festival organiser Nigel Costley, from the South West TUC, said: “It is about expressing ourselves and supporting each other and the struggles we believe in.

“180 years on from the Tolpuddle Martyrs and trade unionists are still having to defend themselves from the government.

“Back in 1834 the government used the law to send six farmworkers to Australia to stop them campaigning against low pay, “Today the government is mooting changing the law on ballots to stop workers from taking strike action against low pay.

“Unions are often the only voice working people have and at Tolpuddle this year they will be talking about how to make that voice heard in the corridors of power and in the board rooms of big businesses.”

Tributes to festival stalwart Tony Benn, who passed away earlier this year, were heard from MPs Dawn Primarolo and Kerry McCarthy.

Former union leader Mr Crow was a frequent festival visitor and Mr Amey, from Blandford, was another regular, who served the Agricultural Workers Union with steadfast dedication for over 50 years.

Mr Benn’s granddaughter Emily told crowds her late loved one described the festival as his ‘annual injection’, to inspire him to carry on standing up for what he believed in.

Mr Costley added: “Tony said that no issue is ever lost. He also urged us to remember our history and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.”

There was plenty for people to enjoy at the festival as well this weekend, with a range of entertainment from Friday through to Sunday.

As well as the usual array of live music acts and political speakers, there was children’s entertainment, theatre performances, poetry, debates, village tours and a Radical History School running alongside the festival.

On Sunday crowds gathered for the traditional wreath laying at the grave of martyr James Hammett before the main procession through the village.

There was also music from Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, formerly from The Beautiful South, and The Men They Couldn't Hang and The Standfield Brothers, a folk band from Canada comprising descendants of Tolpuddle Martyrs John and Thomas Standfield.

Brother and sister Pam Collins and Fred Worth, of Dorchester, attend the festival every year to remember their relative and Tolpuddle Martyr James Hammett.

Pam said: “It is very important to remember what they fought for.”

Canadian descendants of the other martyrs also attended.

THIS year’s festival marked 180-years since the Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported abroad.

IN 1834, farm workers in west Dorset formed a trade union.

Unions were lawful and growing fast but six leaders of the union were arrested and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for taking an oath of secrecy.

A massive protest swept across the country.

Thousands of people marched through London and many more organised petitions and protest meetings to demand their freedom.

The protest campaign proved successful and the Tolpuddle Martyrs returned home in triumph.

A PILGRIMAGE was organised to coincide with the festival with a group walking from Plymouth to Tolpuddle, to commemorate the Martyrs.

Walkers retraced the steps of the Martyrs, who, after transportation to Australia in 1834, were pardoned, and returned home.

Members, who stopped along the way to help on farms and at various other community projects, stopped off at the Prince of Wales School in Dorchester on Friday before heading off to Tolpuddle, arriving in the evening.

At the school, they left a carved milestone recording the mileage – 119 miles from Plymouth and 8.5 miles to Tolpuddle.