|Volume 46 Number 17, July 18, 2016||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The 132nd Durham Miners' Gala was held this year on Saturday, July 9. Coming in the wake of the EU referendum and the vote to leave which has created a deep political crisis of the ruling elite it once again affirmed the role of the working class as the main force and leader to chart a new path to fight for a new direction for society. Again this year the Gala was massive - estimated figures of 100-150,000, despite the rain, with tens of thousands attending the mass open air Big Meeting on Durham racecourse where Jeremy Corbyn was the keynote speaker along with trade union leaders and others from the working class movement.
Writing in the souvenir brochure on the invitation of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to speak at the Big Meeting, Dave Hopper, the General Secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, set the scene in a prophetic way when he wrote: "It is in that spirit of solidarity and selflessness that we welcome the 132nd Durham Miners' Gala. It will have a unique place in the history of our Big Meeting." Contrasting this with past years he pointed out: "It is a far cry from the days when New Labour dominated and Tony Blair refused to attend what is the biggest celebration of working class solidarity and community values in Europe. However, in hindsight, I think it was a blessing that the now totally discredited warmonger, whose actions destabilised the Middle East and gave rise to the so-called Islamic State, never sullied our platform. It would have been an insult to our mining families and our history."
Tens of thousands of people took part in the day's celebrations. Marching to the racecourse, the bands and contingents paused at the County Hotel where the Durham Miners' Association leaders and their guests cheered and waved from the balcony. Guests this year included two of the Cuban heroes, René González and Gerardo Hernández, released from prison in the US, and a leading Mexican trade unionist, Napoleon Gomez. As the contingents passed through the City and onto the field, and as many took part in the ceremony in the Durham Cathedral to dedicate new banners, what was striking was the glimpse of a different nation and different world from the mantra of the ruling elite of Westminster politicians and their state and media. They talk about governing for "one nation" and even standing with the "working poor". In reality the "shared values" that they emphasise turn out to be not shared at all but they are the values of the ruling elite and the monopoly capitalist interests they represent. The reality is the driving down of incomes and pensions, "austerity", cuts to public services, privatisation and racism and war. This is in stark contrast to positivity of the working class values of the Durham Miners' Gala with all the trade unions, the working class leaders speaking there to condemn these attacks on the people, to build the alternative that defends everyone, with the Brass and Pipe bands and other musicians with young and old, male and female and the different nationalities reflecting the composition of the area. It all gives a glimpse of what the nation is that the working class has the potential of constituting. It gives a glimpse of the people being in control of their destiny - building a nation that vests sovereignty in the peoples and nations of Britain.
It was in this spirit that Jeremy Corbyn received a massive and special welcome as the final speaker at one of the largest ever Big Meetings held on the racecourse with tens of thousands taking part. After all the confusion-mongering following the EU leave vote, he delivered a pro-social speech that captured the sentiment of the people over the social injustice inflicted on the working class and people, but one that also expressed great optimism for the future of society where the rights of all are upheld. He inspired and lifted the movement in concluding the Big Meeting by saying that "the exciting thing about the current period is that so many people reject absolutely this whole economic model (of austerity measures) and want to build a sustainable world, a culturally strong world, a world where the wealth is created and shared as a result of it. Those that fought for the miners' unions in the 19th and 20th centuries did an amazing job and the mines may have closed but that spirit of unity, that spirit of doing things together, that spirit of community lives on in the hearts of everyone of us here today at the Durham Big Meeting."
During the Gala day RCPB(ML) activists and supporters made contact with hundreds of people as well as engaging a large number of people in discussion in the parade of banners, on the racecourse and at the Party's stall. Hundreds of the Party's publication The Line of March and a special issue of North East Workers' & Politics, both which contained the call of the northern Region of RCPB(ML) The Working Class Can Grasp the Opportunity to Fight for a New Direction for Society, were distributed. The call concluded: "As we take part in the Durham Gala and the Big Meeting, let us all unite around the need to build a Workers' Opposition to fight for the alternative, to defeat austerity and defend the rights of all. Let us adopt the programme for democratic renewal so that the people are increasingly empowered to make all the decisions in society. The movement of the workers can be built which will bring about change that favours the people and the nations which at present constitute Britain. Grasp the opportunity to bring about a new direction for the economy and society!"
This is the spirit that is the Durham Miners Gala. Let us take this forward and build the Workers Opposition to fight for a new direction for society.
Left: Party Banner - Right: Cuban heroes, René González and Gerardo Hernández
Jeremy Corbyn at the Big Meeting