The Flashback Track Friday Prompt graphic

This is my response to this week’s Flashback Track Friday prompt, where we were asked:

Write about a disagreement.

I’m going back almost two hundred years for my response this week, to rural Dorset and 1834.

Having endured three pay cuts in three years, six farm labourers made a pact that, in future, they would bargain their labour as one with their landowner employer James Frampton. The idea was that by negotiating en masse, all men would be treated equally. Frampton could not “divide and conquer” anyone, because he was dealing with six.

Sounds fair? In what was an unskilled profession, for people who had zero mobility, it ensured that no one person could be treated worse (or better) than the other five.

The authorities viewed things differently. Seeing this rudimentary trade union as a threat, the men were charged with “taking an illegal oath”, convicted (by a court of landowners) and sentenced to seven years Transportation.

But the case did not go away. At the time, there were mass demonstrations, and an 800,000-signature petition was delivered to parliament. Even now, these men are known collectively as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

While the men’s story might not be widely known any more, the name certainly is, in the UK at least. The village of Tolpuddle is not far from me, and every year, now, a festival is held to celebrate the men’s defiance.

A regular performer at these festivals is the folk singer, Billy Bragg. Bragg has had hits in his own right but might possibly be more famous because Kirsty MacColl covered his song “A New England”.

So I have a suitable Bragg song this week.

I’ve been relatively lucky in that the skills I have always rendered me unique. I was able to walk up to a client and negotiate a pretty good deal for myself. But for people whose skills perhaps aren’t so unique, I completely understand and support the role of unions.

Not least, we shouldn’t underestimate what trades unions have achieved for us in days gone by; we wouldn’t have things like weekends or paid holidays without organised fights for them.


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