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NO-ONE at this weekend’s inspirational Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival will need reminding of just how powerful collective action and solidarity can be.
Trade unionists from across Britain came together to tell the government that combination is not a crime and demand those six Dorset farm labourers be brought back from Botany Bay.
And Tolpuddle has become the perfect way to mark their victory, rejecting the stuffy image of what a trade union event “should” be to put on a true celebration of that historic struggle, throwing a party rather than putting on a conference.
Here in East Anglia we have our own labour movement struggles to honour, including the longest strike in history in Burston, Norfolk.
Thirteen-year-old Violet Potter led her fellow students out on strike in 1914 when the church authorities sacked the socialist teachers Tom and Annie Higdon for having the gall to actually look after the poverty-stricken children in their care.
The Higdons set up a strike school, continuing to teach the children first on the village green, then in a disused barn before eventually building their own school with cash raised from the labour movement, particularly railway workers, miners and agricultural workers.
The strike school lasted a quarter of a century, until Tom died in 1939 and a 75-year-old Annie decided she couldn’t keep it going alone.
Every year hundreds of people make the pilgrimage to Burston on the first Sunday in September to pay tribute to the children, their teachers and the ongoing struggle for socialism in the countryside.
But as 2019 is the Year of the Young Worker, we at Unison Eastern wanted to do something extra special to mark the occasion in style.
We’ve joined up with the team behind the ever-popular WoW festival to energise a new generation with those trade union values of co-operation, solidarity — and fun.
Unity Festival will complement the existing Strike School Rally’s programme of music and speakers with a full line-up of 22 live bands over Friday and Saturday, along with a smattering of great DJs, drumming workshops, yoga, karaoke and more.
You’ll be in for an eclectic mix of live music — Ghanaian electronica with Electric Jalaba, Danish ska with Total Hip Replacement, hip hop with Impilo and A.N.G, hard bluesy rock from Edinburgh with Black Cat Bone, soul-infused jazz from Nebula Sun and pure dance from My Bad Sister, Captain Flatcap and The Mighty Flux who close the show.
The local pub is providing the bar at its normal prices, a mere stagger away from the stages and campsite, which will be open right through to Monday morning so you’re welcome to stay after the festivities at Burston.
But Unity won’t just be about looking to the past or having a dance (though you’ll have more than enough opportunity for that), we want it to galvanise ourselves in the here and now for the battles ahead.
Recent Office for National Statistics figures have shown that we may finally be beginning to reverse the decline in trade union membership, with net growth for the second year running and the first significant rise in decades.
Unison has been at the centre of that turnaround, with the public sector remaining the bedrock of British trade unionism.
But while you only need to look around to see that young people are heavily engaged in politics, they’re not joining trade unions in the numbers they should be.
That’s why Unison convinced the TUC to make 2019 the Year of the Young Worker and concentrate on building our movement in the years to come.
So as well as the top-class live music, Unity will have plenty of politics for people to get their teeth into.
We’ll have workshops, guest speakers including Labour’s Clive Lewis and Karen Davies, Unison’s Roger McKenzie and Josephine Grahl, while the Morning Star’s own Steve Sweeney will be joining us for an international question time panel.
And all that for the bargain price of just £25 for the weekend!
Chris Jenkinson is Unison eastern regional secretary.
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