Accompanied by trade union banners representing over 70 organisations & 40 brass bands, tens of thousands marched through Duham city centre on Saturday to the "big meeting" marking the 126th Durham Miners’ Gala.
Speakers at this year’s Gala included former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, PSC assistant general secretary Chris Baugh and Nour Alabassi, women’s representative of the Jafra Palestine Refugee Centre in Damascus. And, as ever, the former Labour minister Tony Benn also joined the platform.
Speaking at the ‘big meeting’ for the first time, Ken Livingstone admitted his biggest mistake as mayor was, “not inviting the Durham Miners Gala to come to London & march through Oxford Street & Hyde Park & show the people of London that working class culture that you have kept & invented.”
He said that the Gala celebrates the tradition of the labour movement, but also celebrates the culture of the working class of this country in a way that very few points in the cultural institutions actually do.
The main theme of Livingstone’s speech, however, was what the souvenir programme for the 126th Durham Miners’ Gala called ‘a rallying call for ordinary people to fight the threat to their standard of living from the new coalition government.’
“Absolutely terrible things are about to be unleashed on the vast majority of people in this country,” claimed Livingstone, and he said it was based on a lie. “The debt we have today is less than a third of that it was in 1945 and it didn’t stop the building of the most advanced welfare state in human history. They think they can get away with cuts that Mrs Thatcher didn’t even dare to consider!”
Len McCluskey, a candidate for Unite General Secretary also criticised the ConDem cuts. “People are angry,” he said, “They don’t see why bankers should be bailed out while workers go to the wall, losing their jobs, their hard won pay and conditions and even their homes. They’re also angry at the politicians who feathered their own nests while turning a blind eye to the damage that the city of London & the bonus-drunk brigade were doing to our communities”
But, turning to what needed to be done, he explained, “We have a new challenge today: it is no longer enough to say capitalism isn’t working - even the Financial Times admits that - our challenge is to give expression to that anger and to spell out a visionary and practical alternative. It’s only our movement that can deliver.”
Action to save jobs, he said, including occupations. And we need a determination to save public services from cuts. Health, education & welfare must not be held hostage to pay for the City’s greed. The burden should fall on those who caused the problem.
“On this the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution,” he concluded, “let me leave you with the words of Che Guevara. When asked how long must the struggle continue, he replied, ‘hasta la victoria siempre’ - until the final victory. That is the task that lies before us - to pass on the spirit of the miners from generation to generation.
We have a world to win, for peace, for prosperity, for humanity & for freedom”
Leading the day’s rallying call for ordinary people to fight the threat to their standard of living from the new coalition government, though, was Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper.
In both his speech to the rally and his foreword in the programme he said a new Con-Dem coalition has been elected, and the people of north-east England have no illusions whatsoever about what they face in the next few years.
“We need once again to inspire the working class into action to defend our social advances, and to turn back the expected attacks on British workers' living standards,” he said.
But in a bitter attack on its 13 years in power he said, “the new Labour government missed many opportunities to redress the balance between rich and poor, and in the end failed miserably.”
“Who would have thought that Labour would advocate such senseless conflicts and cause so much misery and bloodshed to thousands of our troops - let alone to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan people?”
He claimed it was a miracle Labour did not get obliterated in the general election. And the five Labour leadership candidates appear little different from those who preceded them.
“It’s not a new leader we need,” he declared, “but a new direction.”
The Gala should be a rallying call to the working class to co-ordinate the defence of our class against the unjust policies perpetrated by this unholy alliance of Tories and Liberal Democrats.
There was evidence at the Gala that this call is being heeded.
The banner of the newly formed Public Services Alliance and flyers for a public meeting calling for the defence of public services, pay and pensions, suggest that the ‘coalitions of resistance’ recently demanded in Newcastle by RMT general secretary Bob Crow are beginning to materialize.