BUMPER crowds are expected at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival this weekend.

This key date in the trade union calendar comes just days after thousands of UK schools closed because of industrial action by teachers, firefighters and other public workers.

Unions say a million public sector workers backed the day-long strike, although government insists the figure was closer to 500,000.

The festival, held in Tolpuddle village – the spiritual home of the trade union movement – boasts a number of heavyweight speakers, including TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and TUC president Mohammad Taj.

There will also be music during the three-day event from Paul Heaton, formerly of The Beautiful South, Jacqui Abbott, and The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

Tributes to festival stalwart Tony Benn, who passed away earlier this year, are expected from MPs Dawn Primarolo and Kerry McCarthy, and from his granddaughter Emily Benn.

South West TUC regional secretary Nigel Costly said: “One hundred and eighty years on from the Tolpuddle Martyrs and trade unionists are still having to defend themselves from the government.

“Back in 1834 the government used the law to send six farm workers to Australia to stop them campaigning against low pay. Today the government is mooting changing the law on ballots to stop workers from taking strike action against low pay.

“Unions are often the only voice working people have and at Tolpuddle this year they will be taking about how to make that voice heard in the corridors of power and in the board rooms of big businesses.”

The festival starts on Friday and runs until Sunday, when admission is free and the unions parade takes place through the village. Visitors on Friday and Saturday do have to pay.

Visit tolpuddlemartyrs.

org.uk for details.