As the coup from the Labour right is launched, the Labour movement vehemently backs Jeremy Corbyn, writes Chris Nineham
It was a good place to be at the moment Tom Watson pulled out of unity talks and sparked a history-making Labour leadership contest. Thousands of trade unionists, marching band members and former miners and their families were streaming into Durham’s beautiful Race Course for the Big Meeting, the high point of the Durham Miners Gala. Despite persistent rain the Meeting was bigger than for years. People were jostling to get a place near the stage. Everyone knew Jeremy Corbyn was the coming.
The gala is strong on the miners’ outstanding history of solidarity. It starts with a parade of union banners from the pits that used to cover the area before Thatcher destroyed the coal industry, banners decorated with images of kier Hardie, George Lansbury, James Connolly, Lenin and Marx in one case, each one preceded up by its local brass band.
But the moment the Big Meeting started, it was obvious we were making history, not just celebrating it. Gala organiser Dave Hopper got a huge cheer when he explained there had been some changes to the line up as Tom Watson who had sent his apologies would be replaced by Dennis Skinner. Tim Roache, the new General Secretary of the GMB Union, ended his speech with a rousing call to get behind Jeremy Corbyn. Some people, he said, say that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable. Well, the likes of Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown never won an election anyway!’
Aslef’s Mick Whelan followed with an attack on ‘destructive capitalism’. In particular he praised the junior doctors for their defiance and he got a huge roar when he threw down a challenge to jeremy Hunt – 'Impose the contracts at your peril! We will stand with the junior doctors! To more cheers he said he was proud that his union was the first to back Corbyn. ‘They are scared of us’ he said ‘because we have a brilliant leader with a vision for a different society’.
Following Dave Prentis who reported that Unison’s political committee had just met to reaffirm support for Corbyn, Leeds MP and Shadow Cabinet member Richard Burgon made a storming speech in which he applauded everyone present for changing history by standing up for Corbyn in the last few weeks. ‘I salute you for what you have done. I salute you for what you are about to do. Never give in’.
At that moment it was clear to all of those present that we are entering a struggle as important as the Great Miner’s strike of 1984/5, a struggle that is going to shape all of our futures. When Corbyn himself rose to speak there was pandemonium. After the applause finally subsided he made a calm speech which set out a vision for a socialist society based on equality, inclusion and fairness.
He talked of the need for a period like the years after World War Two when the NHS was built and when Council housing spread around the country. He shrugged off the pressure he was under, saying, ‘the real pressure is when you don’t have enough food to put on the table, when you don’t have a roof over your head, when you are wondering if you are going to be cared for in your old age’.
The moment he had finished, the Race Course exploded with chants of ‘Tories Out, Corbyn in’. There can be no doubt that Corbyn has the passionate support of tens of thousands of working class activists across the movement, including from areas where Labour's base has been badly eroded. Those activists now have to be mobilised in a massive, insurgent movement. The fight is on and it's going to be the fight of our lives.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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