The annual Wigan Diggers’ Festival represents a vibrant cultural celebration of our radical tradition as well as an opportunity to organise the left today, reports Karen Buckley
Saturday was the Wigan Diggers Festival. This is a fantastic annual festival in Wigan that brings together many left wing campaigns, trade unions, groups and performers. There’s lots of great stalls, musicians, singers and poets, and it’s a chance to catch up with friends and meet new people.
The Diggers’ Festival commemorates the radical Leveller group who were active during the mid 1600s. The leader, Gerrard Winstanley, was from Wigan. They promoted their belief that the land should be available to every person to dig and sow, so that everyone, rich or poor, could live, grow and eat by the sweat of their own brows. For them, “the earth was made to be a common treasury for all.” They became known as the Diggers.
They also advocated absolute human equality, including equality between men and women which was very radical in the 1600s. Not only did Winstanley get his ideas out in books and other papers, the Diggers took direct action by taking over common land that wasn’t owned by anyone and wasn’t in use. They started to farm it, which enabled everyone who worked the land to eat.Diggers re-enactment
Every year, the festival awards a Diggers Festival ‘Gerrard Winstanley Spade’ to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the cause of making the Earth a common treasury for all. This year, the award went to George Monbiot, who unfortunately couldn’t be at the festival, for his environmental and political activism.
The award has previously been presented to the late veteran Labour MP, Tony Benn, film director Ken Loach, writer Jimmy McGovern and local actor-activist Maxine Peake. The award has also gone to a number of less well-known people who have made outstanding contributions to the common good.
A late announcement this year was that Jeremy Corbyn would be joining the festival after speaking at a protest against the arms trade in Liverpool. Unlike the local MP Lisa Nandy, who had turned up briefly earlier in the day, Corbyn received a hugely ecstatic and enthusiastic welcome from the crowds at Wigan Diggers Festival. His speech was very well received and many wanted to shake his hand and speak to him after. It was very clear that his appeal to ordinary people has not diminished, nor has peoples’ deeply felt desire for the progressive political change for the many he represented, and indeed continues to represent.
Fortunately for the People’s Assembly, who had a stall there and were doing a livestream to their Facebook page from the festival, he was willing to stop, give a short interview and have his photo taken promoting the national demonstration on Sunday 3 October in Manchester. Corbyn will be speaking at this demonstration and is taking part of the programme of events the People’s Assembly has organised to oppose the Tory Party Conference in Manchester 2-6th Oct.Jeremy Corbyn and Karen Buckley, Manchester People's Assembly co-convenorManchester People's Assembly stall
As ever, the Wigan Diggers festival was very successful and well worth getting to next year if you can.
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