The Tolpuddle Festival in Dorset is the annual celebration organised by the South West TUC (Trade Unions Congress) to commemorate the six brave agricultural labourers who formed a workers union to defend themselves in Britain. In 1834 these workers were suffering harsh working conditions and cuts in pay. They responded by forming a union, membership of which required an oath of secrecy in order to protect them from infiltration and spies. As a result they were transported to Australia as criminals. Massive protests from all over Britain converged on London and an 800,000 signatory petition was the response. The Government would eventually pardon the six. The victory was a great boost to the emerging trade union movement.
The festival has become a place for discussions and mainly a show of support for the Labour Party. This year revolutionary communists of Revolutionary Praxis from England and Democracy and Class Struggle from Wales carried out joint activities under the Red Block at the Festival and decided to try and challenge the narrative that Labour will be the saviour of the working class. We organised an unofficial forum to discuss ‘After the election: Where Do We Go From Here?’.
We gathered on the green by the Martyrs’ Museum with a small PA and a board advertising our forum. We had spent the day before distributing a leaflet advertising the event. In the end about a dozen people attended. This was not bad considering we were in the midst of thousands of social democrats deeply committed to Labour! Harry Powell from Revolutionary Praxis spoke about the historical betrayals of Labour to the working class and how modern day local authority councillors have no sense of civic duty and see their role as a career and hence those on the left and right in councils implement Tory cuts. Nick Glais from Democracy and Class Struggle also spoke of the historical betrayals of Labour in his home of Wales and the need to revive the socialist visions of past socialists like William Morris. Ollie Coxhead of Revolutionary Praxis spoke about how Labour just like all other parties is concerned only with the capitalist model of economic growth and ignores the ecological problems capitalism is posing to the planet.
Supporters of Corbyn and the Socialist Workers party also spoke, they believed that we have no alternative but to support Labour in order to transform it and that somehow social democracy could be introduced again. Red Block comrades reiterated that the overthrow of the capitalist state was the only way to bring about socialism and thatLlabour would never be socialist despite Corbyn’s principles.
After the discussion there was a couple of people who told us they did not believe Labour could bring about radical change and had concerns that they thought Labour was not addressing seriously such as the ecosystem and housing. It seems our discussion forum had been a bit of fresh air! Later the Red Block comrades attended a meeting at which ‘left’ Labour councillors made pathetic excuses for implementing Tory cuts. They suggested that it is better they do it than breaking the law and allowing the Tories to shut the council down and run it through the civil service directly. Well, we say, why not let them? If you Labourites are really for defending services then expose that it is the Government by letting it do it directly. However we suspect these Labour councillors are more interested in protecting their salaries and perks they receive in the heights of local government!
The Red Block comrades also engaged in propaganda work by having a stall of revolutionary literature and pamphlets in the main tent. The pamphlets we had exposing the Labour Party as another capitalist party sold quite well and we hope we have helped destroy some illusions!