Thursday, July 07, 2011

Deported to Van Diemen's Land - in 2011!

TOLPUDDLE Martyrs' Oak on village green where farm workers met to form union

I HAVE checked that this is not just a publicity hoax!

BACK in 1834 six men of Dorset, the 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' as they became known, were tried and transported to what was then called Van Diemen's Land, Tasmania, for trying to form an agricultural workers' trade union.

Trade unionists are due to hold the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival and Rally from July 15-17, to commemorate that bit of history and take inspiration for the struggles today. And just in case anyone was thinking that was "all in the past", I have been forwarded this report:

An Australian trade unionist due to take part in the annual rally to commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who were deported for forming a trade union, has herself been deported.

Maureen Lum, from Tasmania, arrived in the UK last Sunday for a long-planned holiday and was due to sing some of her own songs with the Grassroots Community Choir at the festival in Dorset.

However, immigration officials at Stanstead Airport deported for not having a performers’ visa. The fact that Ms Lum was not being paid to come or for her performance did not sway officials. She was put on the next flight back to Tasmania.

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.

Liz Forster, from the choir, said: “As a member of the Grassroots Union Choir, we are all very upset by this unfair treatment. Maureen is the author of several of the songs that we will be singing. She does it as a statement of solidarity with other unionists. We are sad but know not what to do.”

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. It strengthens the bonds between our nations and between union people.

“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.”

This year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival takes place from July 15-17 and the camping places have already sold out.

(from a press release)

It appeared on a news site called 'the People's Republic of South Devon', and for a moment I thought it might be some kind of joke, but I checked and it is genuine, apparently (and the news site incidentally is quite good).

At a time when Tory papers are frequently trying to whip up hysteria about how open Britain's borders supposedly are to dastardly foreigners coming here up to no good, perhaps their readers will feel reassured that the guardians of the realm at Stanstead have proved so alert?

On the other hand, at a time when so many public servants, including airport officials, have been having to take trade union action to protect their pensions and their rights, it is sad to think there are still some so lacking in consciousness as to see their duty as finding rules they can interpret to deport a sister coming to sing at the Tolpuddle Rally.

The same ruling class that deported the Dorset farm workers for forming a trade union is all too alive and well in this Con Dem government which is attacking the people's rights and threatening to tighten further its repressive anti-union laws.

Hopefully this disgusting treatment of Maureen Lum, the sister from Tasmania, will help publicity for the Tolpuddle festival and rally and encourage more people to participate in it as a celebration and show of strength for trade unionism.


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