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Farmer's plea over march of globalisation

PUBLISHED: 08:00 19 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 October 2010

IAN CLARKE

A senior Norfolk farmer made an impassioned plea for the whole agricultural community to work together to fight to save the industry.

IAN CLARKE

A senior Norfolk farmer made an impassioned plea for the agricultural community to work together to fight to save the industry.

David Richardson chose an event marking the centenary of the founding of the farm workers' union by tireless campaigner Sir George Edwards to call for unity between all sectors of the industry, from farm workers to landowners.

Methodist preacher Sir George started the group which became known as the National Union of Agricultural Workers after seeing the widespread victimisation of land workers in 1906 after the Liberals overthrew the Conservative government.

The anniversary of the event was commemorated by a debate at Gressenhall Museum, near Dereham, on Saturday, which had a theme of "What is the future for rural trade unions?"

It was organised by the East Anglia District of the Methodist Church and the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Mr Richardson - who has farmed in the county for 40 years and is a well-known agricultural columnist - pinpointed globalisation and cheap imports created by the exploitation of workers as threatening British farming.

"Globalisation is one of the greatest evils we face in the world today," he said. "It threatens the very life and civilisation we know."

He said the "feudalism of the landed classes" had been exchanged for "multinational corporations which are much worse."

Mr Richardson recently returned from Brazil and gave harrowing accounts of the abuse of workers in industries such as sugar production.

He said 10,000 British rural jobs were at risk because this country could not produce sugar at the low cost offered from Brazil.

"The politicians are blind to this kind of thing," he said. "They do not know what they are saying when they say globalisation is the way forward.

"All those in agriculture are faced with the same kind of threat."

He said arguments between farmers and workers over issues such as pay were only "about 20 or 30pc of the problems between us."

"Seventy to eighty per cent of factors facing us all could be dealt with in a much more united way if we could work together."

Mr Richardson said 40 years ago he employed eight men - but now he employed just one despite having more land.

He added: "That is not the way I want it to be. But it is the way I have to be if I want to stay in farming."

Sir George was born at Marsham, near Aylsham, in 1850 and died at Fakenham in 1933, where he is buried.

He had a very hard childhood and began his working life aged just five as a crow scarer. He taught himself to ride a bike and pedalled 3000 miles during his first year as a union leader.

During the 1923 farm workers' strike Sir George - who later became an MP - gave a famous shout of "be good lads" during a riot outside Walsingham court and calm immediately was restored.

Other speakers at Saturday's event were Nick Mansfield - former assistant curator at Gressenhall Museum and now director of the People's History Museum in Manchester, freelance journalist and former Landworker editor Francis Beckett and the T&G's national secretary for agriculture Chris Kaufman.

Mr Beckett said unions were having a "long drawn out divorce" from the Labour Party and trade unions could learn from history.

Mr Kaufman said about 1500 new members had joined in the poultry industry. He said 40,000 UK jobs were at risk from imports from Brazil.


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