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Tolpuddle Festival report

Tolpuddle festival banner

Every summer, thousands of people flock to the small village of Tolpuddle to celebrate trade unionism and the town’s six famous martyrs. Over the years, the festival has become something of a rallying point for trade unionists and labour activists across the country, and CAAT was here this year with a stall in the martyrs’ marquee to promote our Arms to Renewables campaign.

Joe with the CAAT stallThe stall ran on both the Saturday and the Sunday of the festival, and over the weekend I was approached by a number of people with a wide variety of different beliefs about what we were doing. Most were very supportive, and a lot of our literature disappeared very quickly, but there were a few who were concerned that campaigning against the arms trade would be putting working people, like themselves, out of jobs.

This, as I explained to them, was the real beauty of arms to renewables, that by simply shifting government priorities and some of the massive subsidies spent on the arms trade, we could create more jobs than the entire arms industry employs, and jobs with real security, rather than in an industry that is flatlining at best.

Pro Israeli stall next to War on Want and CAAT

There was a degree of controversy on the Saturday, when a small delegation from “Bournemouth Action for Israel” turned up to run a stall. This made for a good opportunity to discuss the British arms trade with Israel, particularly in light of our new report with War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (both of whom were also present) on “Arming Apartheid.” Perhaps disappointed at the lack of a warm reception, BAFI did not continue to run their stall on the Sunday, and their literature claiming that Israel was “a young country offering extraordinary gifts to humanity” went largely neglected.

The rest of the festival was a huge success, with appearances from Billy Bragg and Jeremy Corbyn amongst other musical acts and speakers from a range of trade unions. Other stalls were run by groups representing just about every shade of working class politics from the Marx Memorial Library, to the Radical Workers’ Bloc, to the Green Party. Indeed, there was a great diversity of opinion that it became very clear that the campaign to end the arms trade has a universal appeal and was in contradiction to so many different forms of progress that it was hard to see how anybody could support it.

In discussion with the Animal Aid stall to my right, we both agreed that an end to the arms trade was hugely important to animal rights, both because humans came under the broad umbrella of “animals” and because of the threat to wildlife and the larger ecosystem caused by war. This was just one of many conversations with other stall-holders that demonstrated to me that we were all there under different banners but with a very common purpose and a common realisation that the international arms trade really is a threat to us all, whether it be to our lives, our environment, or even our future job prospects.

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