Methodist Church to celebrate trade unionist heritage at Tolpuddle festival

The Methodist Church, which has recently voiced supportfor the Gangmasters Bill and renewed links with the TUC, will thisweekend link together a peer of the realm and five thousand TradeUnionists at the Tolpuddle Festival.

Tolpuddle, a tiny village in Dorset, will come alive ascoachloads of Trade Unionists from all around the country convergethere for the annual commemoration of the TolpuddleMartyrs.

Five of the six 1834 Martyrs who risked the wrath oflandowners to form the 'Friendly Society of AgriculturalLabourers', calling for better wages and conditions, were prominentvillage Methodists.

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

He continued: "The magistrates and farmers, desperate tosuppress the Tolpuddle workers, arrested them on trumped up chargesof forming 'illegal societies'. The men were soon deported toAustralia, but the British Trade Union movement traces its originsback to them."

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