The Working Class Festival Which Is the Durham Miners Gala

In the wake of the May 7 Conservative electoral coup, the 131st Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting on July 11 affirmed the role of the working class as being at the centre of modern developments. The Gala was massive – an estimated 150,000 people – and with an optimistic and independent spirit.

As Dave Hopper, the General Secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, wrote in the Gala’s souvenir brochure, “Despite all the attempts by the Tory press and media to write us out of history, we are still here in massive numbers to celebrate our community spirit and carry our socialist message on behalf of the working class.”

Dave Hopper’s message continued, “Capitalism has failed the people.

“The banking system was brought to its knees by the relentless drive to extort profit from the efforts of working people and now the bankers continue their parasitic activity while the poorest are made to pay.

“Politicians of all parties are all talking about aspirations as if aspirations are exclusive to the middle class. The subtext, of course, is the daft idea that the lower classes have no aspirations and are content to live off benefits. But we all have aspirations. Aspirations to live in an equal society where there is adequate social housing, schools and healthcare for everyone and where the sick and disabled are looked after and those who are unemployed are treated with dignity.

“Capitalism has proved incapable of providing such a society, so surely we must start with the aspiration to create a socialist society and demonstrate to the 15 million who did not vote in this election that there is an alternative to the career politicians.

“It is not going to be easy but they have drawn the battle lines. We have to resist these attacks on the weakest in our society and give our youth an opportunity in life. So let’s start the fight back at today’s Gala.”

The characteristic of the Gala is that working people take over the city of Durham for the day. The culture of the workers, upholding the spirit of the miners decades after the neo-liberal anti-social offensive wiped out the mining industry, is represented by brass and silver bands, as well as pipe bands. Every tune that is played is transformed into something positive by these bands. And the miners lodge banners are carried with pride and verve to add to the excitement. Other trade union banners are present in numbers. It is clear that there is no despondency after May 7, but a determination to affirm the dignity of what it means to be human and be a worker, and to fight for the rights of all.

Speakers on the platform at the large open space of the Racecourse included Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leadership candidate, Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union, Tosh McDonald, president of ASLEF, Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT, and Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite. The meeting was chaired by the general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, Dave Hopper. Delegations from Cuba and Venezuela also spoke to the meeting from the platform.

Dave Hopper general secretary DMA        Tosh McDonald President ASLEF

Matt Wrack general secretary FBU        Trade Union delegation from Cuba
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Chris Keates general secretary NASUWT        Len McCluskey general secretary UNITE

In his closing speech to the gathering, Len McCluskey said of Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn: “Anyone who thinks that Jeremy’s policies are too left, or could not win popular support in our country. Watch this space.

“People call Jeremy and Unite the extreme left. Is it extreme to oppose austerity, wrecking the lives of millions? Is it extreme to stand for higher taxes on the wealthy to help tackle the inequality? Extreme to support our NHS? Extreme to oppose criminal wars like Iraq? And is it is extreme to support proper rights for trade unionism? No, comrades, it isn’t. We stand for the common sense of our age. We stand for the values of equality, decency, fairness and social justice.”

The Workers’ Weekly issue of July 11, distributed in its hundreds at the Gala, had the title “No to Austerity! For a New Direction for Society!” It concluded: “In summary, the need is to build the Workers’ Opposition in the fight to end austerity, bring about a new direction for society that stands up for public right over monopoly right and takes up the challenge to effect democratic renewal and empower the people to make the decisions. The Gala embodies accepting this challenge that the working class must get further organised and build the Workers’ Opposition around which all forces can rally to defeat austerity, defend the rights of all and at the same time fight for an anti-war government. Truly the role of the working class is that of ‘the hewer of society’!”

Long may the Durham Miners Gala continue and flourish!

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