If you’re heading to Tolpuddle next weekend for the annual union festival – a great mix of political debate, foot-tapping music and beer – spare a thought for Maureen Lum from Tasmania.
Maureen arrived in the UK last Sunday for a long planned holiday and was due to sing with the Grassroots community choir at the festival in Dorset.
However, immigration officials at Stansted Airport deported her for not having a performers’ visa, despite the fact that she was not being paid to come or for her performance. The deportation has led some commentators to question whether grandmother trade unionists are more unwelcome than alleged terrorists.
The Tasmanian Grassroots Union Choir is a group of music lovers dedicated to ensuring that workers’ songs, old and new, are being sung and heard in Tasmania. They were due to perform a special series of songs about one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, George Loveless, who was exiled to Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was then called.
Nigel Costley, South West TUC Regional Secretary, said: “You would have thought that after 170 years things might have moved on.
“The Tolpuddle Festival is more than a rally for trade union members; it is a celebration of working people’s culture. We were delighted when the Grassroots Union Choir agreed to come and perform.
“The petty and vindictive attitude of immigration officials might mean there is one less voice in the choir but the thousands of people attending the festival will sing out strongly in her place.”
Just to remind you what the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival is all about, in 1834 six Dorset farm workers were arrested and sentenced to seven years’ transportation for organising a trade union.
Massive protests swept across the country and thousands of people marched through London; many more organised petitions and protest meetings to demand their freedom. Eventually they returned home in triumph.
The festival takes places each July when thousands of people come to small Dorset village to celebrate trade unionism and to remember the sacrifice made by the six farm workers.
It’s a popular mix of political discussion and speeches, great music and the traditional procession of banners, wreath laying and Methodist service.
This year’s Festival takes place from July 15-17 and the camping places have already sold out. For more information see: http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/