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Follow in the Tradition of the Tolpuddle Martyrs
8am, Sun January 28, 2007

By Jane Faulkner
Posted Monday, January 15, 2007

Justice for Workers Church Service at Bulli Festival

The tradition of the Tolpuddle Martyrs continues.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs are probably the best known Christians who have contributed to the trade union movement but they were certainly not the only ones. Following an inspiring festival church service at Coastfest in Gosford, the festival church service at Bulli continues to celebrate the long tradition of people of faith working alongside others to create a just society, particularly for working people.

The Tolpuddle Men were six men from Tolpuddle in England who, in 1832 formed The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to better the lot of agricultural workers in Dorset, England. Wages were so low that the workers faced starvation. The men were led by George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher. Four of the other men were also methodists. The local landowner complained to the authorities who looked for a way to stop the men. They found one. The men were arrested, tried and transported to Australia as convicts - not for having formed a union (which was legal) but for having sworn a secret oath of loyalty (which was not). Public outcry eventually brought a full pardon for the men, who had become known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Their contribution to the beginnings of trade unionism is celebrated every July at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival in Dorset.

Connecting faith with everyday life.

Many other Christians have found that their faith insired them to work for justice. From the second half of the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century, many of the leaders of the trade union movement in England were also Methodists. Robert Wearmouth's history of Methodists and trade unionism presents a list of eighty full time trade union leaders who owed their career, position and influence to their religious experience.[1] They became trade union leaders because first of all they were deeply stirred by religion. Many Christians were also found among the Chartists who worked for universal male sufferage (rather than politics being the exclusive domain of landowners). These leaders arose at a time when poverty was rife amongst the working people of England and the working people had no political rights. The struggle to improve conditions for the workers was, for them, a natural expression of the love and justice of God.

Today, the churches have been amongst the strongest critics of the government's new Industrial Relations laws, which deny many people the opportunitity to engage in collective bargaining. Like the Tolpuddle Martyrs before them, the leaders of today's churches recognise that collective bargaining gives vulnerable workers a better chance at decent pay and conditions. Their faith in a just and loving God compels them to work for justice for workers.

You are invited to celebrate and continue the tradition of the Tolpuddle men, the Chartists and others like them. Come and join us at the 2007 Illawarra Folk Festival for church, folk style at the Illawarra Festival Church Service. The service will focus on Justice for Workers celebrating the long tradition of Christians working alongside others to improve the lot of working folk. It will be hosted by Jane Scott, a minister of the Uniting Church as well as a festival poet. The service will feature the talents of performers such as The Roaring Forties and Tamnesia and will include folk songs, favourite hymns and lots of opportunities to sing along - including a song trom the Chartist movement. It’s worship worth getting out of bed for!

Sunday Jan 28 8am-9:15
Slacky Flat Marquee
Illawarra Folk Festival
Bulli Showground

Contact Jane for more info on

[1] Wearmouth, R.F., Methodism and the Trade Unions Epworth Press London 1959 p.38

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Follow in the Tradition of the Tolpuddle Martyrs