Last Saturday saw the 130th Durham Miners Gala, extending a tradition, except during the two world wars and years of major strikes, going back to the first such meeting in 1871 at Wharton Park, which is roughly opposite where County Hall is today. The event on Saturday was, as ever, a magnificent cultural and political celebration of much of what is great about life in North East England – with our cherished values of solidarity, tolerance and fairness.
Speakers included trade union leaders such as Christine Blower from the NUT and Paul Kenny from the GMB, as well as the leader of the Ukranian Mining Unions, continuing the tremendous internationalist tradition of the Gala. The speakers spoke of the injustices being heaped upon the working people of Britain by the Coalition Government. Christine Blower spoke eloquently of about the need for solidarity between unions , whilst Paul Kenny understandably aked what wasn’t normal about being in favour of the renationalisation of the railways, outlawing zero hours contracts and opposing many of the Coalition Government’s policies. One speaker also mentioned the links between the Hillsborough Tragedy in 1989 and the police brutality at Orgreave during the Miners’ Strike in 1984, which many miners from the Northeast suffered and how both scandals were policed by the same deeply discredited South Yorkshire Police Force.
What was perhaps most important, apart from the excellent, warm, sunny weather, was the turnout. The BBC, who reported the event on their local Northeast section of their news website, somewhat disingenuously noted that ‘thousands’ attended the Gala. Now, while this is factually accurate, it might have meant 5 000, 10 000 or even 50 000. In the event, the Police estimate was that an amazing 100, 000 were at the Gala. As Paul Kenny put it, if we have seen the death of trade unionsim in Britain, as some misinformed right-wing commentators claim, then the Gala represents some afterlife!
The enormous turnout, far in excess of any other political gathering in Britain this year tells us many things , but here are three to be going along with:
Firstly, it tells us in the North-east we value our wonderful heritage of struggle for working and general human rights, that we value our solidarity and our communities and that we value our internationalism as well.
Secondly, it tells us that the spirit of resistance to this dreadful government’s policies, to the appalling inequalities, to a million people using foodbanks every year, whilst bankers are given millions in bonuses they haven’t earned, is thankfully alive and very well. It was noted that Ed Milliband didn’t attend this year; if he had he might have realised that presenting proper left-wing policies, which put the 99% ahead of the corrupt, greedy 1 %, might actually win him respect – and the election next year. No other political event in Britain annually pulls in crowds of at least 100 000….. so left-wing views can’t be that unpopular!
Thirdly, the fact that the Gala is so huge, shows the defiance of the people of the mining communities, devastated by Thatcher, and of the wider Northeast , fully 20 years after the last deep mine in CountyDurham closed to the injustices piled upon us since 1979. This attitude will stand us all in good stead in the years ahead and can be built upon as we strive to build a better future.
The Durham Miners Gala is, of course, also known as the Big Meeting – in the second decade of the 21st century it is proving to be a very big meeting indeed….
© Peter Sagar July 2014
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