Durham Miners Gala parade Durham Miners Gala parade. Photo: Alex Snowdon

Mark Porciani reports on a day of epic working class solidarity and mobilisation at the Durham Miners’ Gala

On Saturday, around 200,000 people descended on Durham for the Big Meeting. The Miners’ Gala started in 1871 and this year’s was the 136th gathering. Over the last 150 years only bosses’ lockouts, World Wars and Covid have stopped this gathering of working solidarity to happen. 

The last two years events happened on Zoom, so this year’s Gala was the first to happen in person in three years. Arriving shortly before 8am and walking through the town centre, you could hear in the background the beautiful sound of brass bands setting up in the background. Similar to the anticipation of the orchestra tuning up before the curtain goes up at the opera. 

Unlike a night out at Dury Lane it’s the working-class people of the former mining communities who have the front row seats along the old market town high street of Durham. Listening and singing along to traditional brass band music and popular songs like Village People’s YMCA.

Traditionally the bands stop at the County Hotel. On the balcony listening are the keynote speakers and other resprentives of the trade union movement. At past gone Galas, before the Tories closed the pits, the mine bosses would have also mingled on the balcony with Labour leaders such as Harold Wilson. This year, the Durham Miners’ Association had key workers from different unions on the balcony.

The parade was made up of trade unionists representing branches of all unions from all over the country marching together in pride and unity. Campaigning groups like the People’s Assembly and the Stop the War Coalition also marched with their banners and received widespread support. Counterfire’s “Bring the Tories Down” banner had people queueing up to take selfies with it.

Photo: Counterfire

The parade of banners and bands is a beautiful form of art to witness. It’s also an expression of the importance of art and music in working-class communities. Since the rise of Thatcher, access to learning a musical instrument in schools for working-class children has disappeared. Maintaining the village or town colliery band alive is a maintenance of a basic educational right for all.

Around noon the Big Meeting happened on the old cricket ground running along aside the River Wear. The massive crowd surrounded by the brilliant banners that paraded through the town were then addressed by trade union leaders, including Unite’s Sharon Graham, UCU’s Jo Grady and the RMT’s Mick Lynch who received a rockstar’s reception, as did the RMT bloc in the parade.

The speakers talked about the need for working-class solidarity and organisation, although some were somewhat unpolitical – oddly, considering the current collapse of the government. The keynote address came from Mick Lynch who certainly hit all the right notes in the right places and received rapturous applause when he proclaimed:

“We are back. The working class is back. We refused to be meek. We refuse to be humble. And we refuse to be poor anymore.”

While the Gala is over for this year a long, hot summer and autumn of fightback needs to happen. As wonderful as the event is we cannot forgot it was the day to day class struggle that made the Durham Miners’ Gala in the first place.

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