After speaking at the annual Tolpuddle festival yesterday, I can confirm that the spirit of the Tolpuddle Martyrs is alive and well, 179 years on. But the publication of the government’s new Lobbying Bill proves that the spirit of Squire Frampton is doing pretty well too.
Squire James Frampton was a landowner who feared that trade unionism threatened the power base of the wealthy classes, and wanted to use the full power of the law to quash it. By 1834 forming a union was no longer illegal. But Frampton used an obscure law to arrest, prosecute and transport to Australia six agricultural workers from Dorset – the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The real reason for their victimisation, of course, was that these brave land workers had dared to organise against pay cuts.
The Squire would no doubt have approved of the government’s new Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill, published last week. A more honest title for it would surely be the Protection of Rich Conservative Party Donors and Gratuitous Attack on Trade Unions Bill. It offers a master class in protecting the wealthy and punishing organised labour.