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Stand up for the creative arts

This year’s Tolpuddle festival will be sure to support the call for more arts funding, fair pay for creative workers and proper protection for them at work, says NIGEL COSTLEY

THE Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival features a diverse programme of art, music, poetry and working-class culture. 

Art and performance have always been a key part of the labour movement for inspiration and enjoyment. 

As well as a blistering line-up of music, the festival will host the new display of images by photographer Red Saunders to mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. 

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith has been commissioned by the National Trust to lead a project to mark the Martyrs Tree and its place in our history. 

Bob is passionate about the importance of art education and he will join shadow education secretary Angela Rayner and representatives from creative unions in a debate over the way art is being squeezed out. 

Schools have little time and reduced resources for art, drama and music. There is no cash for museum visits or instruments. The result is that the social divide will widen.

The Tolpuddle event will highlight the South West TUC’s manifesto for creative and cultural industries. It highlights how local areas champion the sector in supporting tourism, creating jobs and boosting community spirit, yet public investment has been cut, venues are under pressure and arts groups are squeezed.

The jobs created are often precarious, underpaid and sometimes not paid at all. The new creative jobs in digital industries come with excessive hours and bogus self-employment.

The Tolpuddle Festival is sure to support the call for more arts funding, fair pay for creative workers and proper protection for them at work.

Internationalism will be a central part of this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival. A new Tolpuddle International Marquee hosts a packed programme of short sessions from academics and campaign groups covering subjects such as Palestine, Sudan refugees, Western Sahara, organising young workers in Germany, Colombia and much more.

On Sunday Ibrahim Dogus will speak up for the campaign for free Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish leader imprisoned in a Turkish jail.

The story of the Tolpuddle martyrs inspires us in so many ways. For the farm workers arrested in 1834 the idea of transportation to the other side of the world must have been terrifying. 

The experience was brutal but it also must have shown them how small the world is. After their return home in freedom they decided to emigrate to Canada where they carved out successful lives for themselves and their families. The Australian and Canadian labour movements celebrate the story of the martyrs.

Today the world is becoming more hostile to people seeking sanctuary or a better life abroad. And workers in too many countries are still being jailed or killed for daring to combine in unions to protect themselves.

The solidarity celebrated at Tolpuddle must not be contained within national borders. We will show solidarity to the teaching assistants on strike in Plymouth as well as Palestinians fighting for their rights in Gaza. 

Nigel Costley is secretary of TUC South West Region.

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