Original article is at:- http://unitelive.org/diggers-return/
An opportunity to discover a proud tradition of English radicalism whilst having fun is guaranteed for anyone attending the fourth Wigan Diggers’ Festival on Saturday 13 September.
The Diggers sprang up around the English Civil War in the seventeenth century. They aimed to use the earth to reclaim the freedom they felt had been partly lost through the Norman Conquest.
Seizing and owning land ‘in common’ could create a classless society where property and wages are abolished.
In 1649, small Diggers’ groups defied landlords and the army by settling on common land and growing crops. Supporters travelled nationally attempting to rally supporters.
The movement was ultimately defeated when violent opposition from landowners saw Diggers beaten, their houses burnt down and legal restraints applied to their occupation.
The main Diggers propagandist was Gerrard Winstanley, born in Wigan in 1609 and who died on 10 September 1676.
In 1621 Wiganers dug up common land in a successful access struggle and it is believed that this subsequently inspired Winstanley when he moved to London in 1630.
Despite being one of the great English radicals, Winstanley was largely unrecognised in his hometown for many years.
Inspired by hearing Billy Bragg sing The World Turned Upside Down, Stephen Hall, Leigh UNITE branch member, persuaded other local trade union activists to organise an initial Diggers’ Festival in 2011. Its success has been built on in each subsequent year.
Six local UNITE branches as well as the North West region of the union are backing the 2014 festival. This will take place in the Wigan town centre Wiend area, where there are advanced plans to rename the garden area in Winstanley’s honour.
On 13 September, actor John Graham-Davies will again perform as Winstanley whilst TV documentary filmmaker David Malone will talk on how the Diggers leader influenced the radical thinkers of the French and American Revolutions.
There will be a puppet story show on the Diggers - described by Tony Benn as “the first true Socialists” – and an all day children’s arts and craft area.
In addition there will be 40 plus food, book and other stalls along with the popular ‘Occu-pie Wigan’ beer tent.
“We are very keen for as many people as possible to come along and join in the fun whilst commemorating a courageous man who influenced the later development of the labour movement in this country,” said Stephen Hall.
All events are free and take place between 11.00am and 9.30pm in the Wiend area of Wigan Town Centre.
The Diggers Festival Committee has awarded actress Maxine Peake this year’s ‘Gerard Winstanley Spade Award.’ She is the second winner with the first one presented to Tony Benn last year. “It is in recognition of never having lost touch with her working class roots, speaking out against the government’s austerity measures and supporting progressive causes such as the Peterloo Massacre Commemoration and the Working Class Movement Library in Salford,” said Stephen Hall.