Lots of discussions at the Durham Miners Gala on the way forward
Crowds of up to 250,000 flocked to a sun-soaked Durham for the 133rd Durham Miners Gala on Saturday 8th July. This is the largest attendance at the Big Meeting (as it is known locally) for at least 50 years, and the mood was both celebratory and optimistic as people basked in the new found popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing policies.
Jeremy Corbyn himself attended the Gala, and speaking from the platform, received loud roars of approval when he called on the Tories to resign and called for a new election.
The Gala is undoubtedly the biggest gathering and celebration of trade unionism in Europe, with trade unionists gathering from across the country. The hundreds of colourful banners and the music of the accompanying colliery bands are a poignant reminder of the hundreds of pits that were lost in the 1980s and 90s. But there was no mourning on Saturday, only numerous discussions on how we must now organise.
In the showground, on the streets and in the pubs there were many discussions on how the struggle must advance in the Labour Party and in the trade unions. The talk was of how to defeat the Blairites, with real support for de-selection of those undermining Corbyn and his programme, not just amongst some MPs but crucially councillors as well. The Durham Miners Association (DMA) for the second year running refused to invite local MPs who have been vocal in opposition to Corbyn.
A number of leading trade unionists spoke at the rally, with radical calls for action accompanying tributes to Davey Hopper, the secretary of the DMA, who died a week after last year’s Gala. The key themes from the platform were health and safety, and the need to smash the public sector pay cap. However it was left to filmmaker Ken Loach to make the call for reselection of MPs, and to remind the other speakers that it is one thing to speak of taking action, but what is needed is to take action.
The 350 copies of the Socialist sold by Socialist Party members and £350 raised for our party’s Fighting Fund reinforced the message that socialism is back.
Iain Dalton also comments on the Gala:
Sun shining high in the sky blessed those attending what was probably one of the largest attendances at the Durham Miners Gala ever. As well as the traditional brass bands and banners of miners’ lodges, there were some huge trade union contingents. Unison seemed to have a bigger presence than the previous year, but the Unite presence was massive.
Given this, and the fantastic response to the headline of the Socialist demanding an end to the public sector pay cap, then it was disappointing that none of the leading public sector trade unionists on the platform at the Gala’s rally raised the question of coordinated industrial action to force the government to end it.
Yet the upbeat mood was undoubtedly a reflection of the renewed support for Jeremy Corbyn on the basis of the radical policies he included in the Labour manifesto. The field to hear him speak was absolutely rammed, with people happily waiting in beating hot sunshine for an hour or so of speeches before hearing him.
This mood even influenced the contingent of the usually ‘moderate’ union Usdaw on the parade, who were passing the County hotel when Corbyn appeared on the balcony, leading them to stop marching and start the crowd off on a round of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. The ‘Progress’ supporting general secretary of Usdaw won’t be happy about that!
Undoubtedly there is an increased interest, not just about opposing austerity and the evils of capitalism, but in what we replace it with and how we can achieve that. Like many Socialist Party members at the Gala, I seemed to be engaged in non-stop conversations all day from the journey there to when I stopped to rest my feet and escape the sun for a few minutes.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 10 July 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.