12 July 2004

Methodist Church to celebrate trade unionist heritage at Tolpuddle festival

The Methodist Church, which has recently voiced support for the Gangmasters Bill and renewed links with the TUC, will this weekend link together a peer of the realm and five thousand Trade Unionists at the Tolpuddle Festival.

Tolpuddle, a tiny village in Dorset, will come alive as coachloads of Trade Unionists from all around the country converge there for the annual commemoration of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Five of the six 1834 Martyrs who risked the wrath of landowners to form the 'Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers', calling for better wages and conditions, were prominent village Methodists.

Mr John Ellis, Connexional Secretary for Business and Economic Affairs, who will offer a dedication to the Parade of Banners as it progresses down the main street, said: "The Martyrs were above all men of faith, and their trade unionism grew out of their faith. John Wesley and his circuit-riding preachers had left behind them transformed communities, who had found new dignity and independence."

He continued: "The magistrates and farmers, desperate to suppress the Tolpuddle workers, arrested them on trumped up charges of forming 'illegal societies'. The men were soon deported to Australia, but the British Trade Union movement traces its origins back to them."

The weekend will conclude with an ecumenical service in the Methodist Chapel, with its entrance arch erected by the TUC to commemorate the martyrs. The preacher will be the new Labour member of the House of Lords, The Rev Dr Lord Griffiths, former President of the Conference and minister of Wesley's Chapel. His theme will be "We raise the watchword Liberty".

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