‘I’m the new Tolpuddle martyr – and the TUC evicted me’
THE case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs details the fight for a fair deal by ordinary working people – a milestone in the birth of the modern trades union movement.
But in an ironic twist, a group of cottages built in memory of the farm labourers is at the centre of a row which appears to go against all their ideals.
It involves a 67-year-old widow who says she will be made homeless after being evicted from one of the cottages – her home since 1989 – by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Janet Pickering was warden of the cottages and the associated library and museum, as was her late husband before her.
The caretaker job involved living in one of the cottages on site.
Mrs Pickering claims she and her husband were told they could remain living there, rent free, after they retired, as part of their remuneration package.
But in 2013, when she told her managers she wanted to retire, the TUC, which owns the memorial, ‘ re- wrote the rules’, she claims, and told her to pay rent – which she could not afford to do.
A two-year legal battle ensued, in which Mrs Pickering spent £6,000 on solicitors’ fees. It ended this month when she agreed to move out, saying she was too exhausted to continue fighting. ‘I
‘All my faith in unions has gone’
have been a member of the union for years, they have hung me out to dry,’ said Mrs Pickering.
‘Every bit of faith I have ever had in unions and the TUC has gone. I cannot believe how they have treated me – they are such hypocrites it is unbelievable. I never thought the day would come when I would say that.’
She added that her husband – who worked at the then Transport and General Workers’ Union – would be ‘turning in his grave’ if he knew what was going on.
The six cottages, named after the six Tolpuddle Martyrs, were built by the TUC in 1934 to commemorate their fight. Ironically, they were built to house agricultural workers who faced eviction from their tied cottages when they retired.
Mrs Pickering said she did not know where she was going to live when she moves out next month. Friends and family members have offered to store furniture and belongings until she can find somewhere permanent.
A TUC spokesman said: ‘ Mrs Pickering was offered a low-cost tenancy in the cottage after her retirement, which would be considerably below a market rent.
‘She has no legal claim for her belief that she is entitled to remain in the cottage rent-free for life, with all her bills paid by the TUC.’