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'We will never forget the sacrifice of the Tolpuddle martyrs'

Jeremy Corbyn pledges to fight for fair pay and decent working conditions like the pioneers of the labour movement

JEREMY CORBYN vowed today that Labour would reverse the Tories’ decision to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board five years ago, which has stripped millions of pounds from the pockets of rural workers.

Speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival Mr Corbyn said he was honoured to lay a wreath at the grave of James Hammett, one of the six martyrs, at Tolpuddle parish church on behalf of the Labour Party.

He said: “We must never forget their sacrifice. Because of these six men we have a trade union movement not just in Britain but all over the world.”

Earlier in his speech, Mr Corbyn told the festival that he wants to reverse the government’s 2013 decision to scrap the board, so agricultural workers in England would be entitled to minimum rates of pay and conditions incorporating guaranteed paid holiday, sick pay and breaks.

Mr Corbyn said: “Rural workers have been consistently ignored by the Tories.

“The south-west is the low pay capital of Britain. Here, and across the English countryside, agricultural workers have been abandoned by the shameful decision to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board.

“The struggle of the Tolpuddle Martyrs sowed the seed for the modern trade union movement and the Labour Party itself. The best way to honour that noble struggle is not just to remember why it took place, but to secure in our time what those workers fought for: the right to fair pay and decent working conditions.”

Agriculture Minister George Eustice, who was under-secretary at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) at the time, had said that the body “became redundant” and was being scrapped because, he claimed, it would be replaced by George Osborne’s new “National Living Wage” – which actually turned out to be little more than a minor rebrand of the national minimum wage.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady also addressed the crowd, saying: “The values shared by those six brave martyrs — solidarity, unity and compassion — inspired a nation and changed the course of history. And they continue to define our movement today.”

In addition, Mr Corbyn called on the Parliamentary Labour Party to delay their emergency motion on adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism until September because Parliament is in recess from this week for summer.

“I’d rather they delayed that discussion until September because there will be a full attendance at meetings in September,” he said.

He added: “I suspect Monday’s [today’s] meeting will not be fully attended because Parliament is rising on Tuesday.

“I also think MPs should get full notice of that issue ... standing orders must be approved by the national executive committee and that cannot happen until the autumn.”

Mr Corbyn defended the position taken by Labour’s ruling NEC, which adopts the IHRA definition of anti-semitism but adds guidelines on the interpretation of the IHRA’s examples, some of which have been accused of conflating anti-semitism with criticism of Israeli government policy.

He said: “What we also agreed to do at the NEC is that we would have a consultation process now with a number of organisations.

“I have written on Thursday this week to a very large number of organisations asking if we can have a discussion with them and talk to them and then bring it back and get it right.

“I want us to deal with anti-semitism in our society, as well as all of our parties, including my own.

“What’s been done is an honest attempt to make sure that we do make it clear we will not tolerate anti-semitism in any form and we will allow legitimate debate on issues facing Israel and Palestine, but it cannot ever be conducted in any anti-semitic form.”

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