Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 27, July 18, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Durham Miners' Gala Online:

The Second Saturday in July 2020 -
Workers Speaking in the Defence of the Rights of All

On Saturday, July 11 at 1pm Alan Mardghum, President of the Durham Miners' Association (DMA) welcomed everyone to the online Durham Miners' Gala for 2020. He said that normally this would have meant there would have been in excess of 200,000 people on the streets of Durham celebrating at the Durham Miners' Gala. He said that "by cancelling some time ago due to the coronavirus outbreak I think we made the right decision, but we need to mark this event with the online version of the Durham Miners' Gala". He thanked the key workers who have kept this country going in very, very unusual circumstances and he said you will be hearing from rank and file key workers in the course of this event who have played a massive part in keeping us safe.

He passed on the condolences of the DMA and all its supporters to those who have lost loved ones in this current pandemic and said our thoughts our with you and he spoke of all those who had died in the labour movement in the last year and in the pandemic. Poignantly, during the proceedings, he introduced the DMA Brass Band to play a very moving rendition of Gresford, outside a windswept Redhills, dedicated to the memory of all those who had gone.

Alan Mardghum also spoke about the 25 brass bands in the Durham miners' area who would be contributing to celebrating this event as well and he said there would also be short films throughout the day and also spoke in the procedure of the online event about the importance of the Gala's stand of international solidarity. He said the Miners' Gala would be back better than ever next year marking the 150th anniversary of the first Durham Miners' Gala and Big Meeting back in 1871. He then made a direct appeal to join the Marras [1] to raise the funds for future Galas well into the future.

Alan Mardghum, President of the Durham Miners' Association

In the film that followed [2] Ross Forbes, DMA Programme Director in speaking about the history of the Gala said: "The origins of the Durham Miners' Gala when it first came to Durham were that it was the people of the county, the coalminers coming to Durham to claim their reets [rights]. It was the start of a political movement and organised labour."

Deb Egglestone, NASUWT teacher from Shildon said that the students she teaches were also disappointed when they heard that the Gala had to be cancelled as they all look forward to being part of the event every year, but said as the teachers and key workers that we rely on we adapt. She read a poem she had written in celebration of teachers who have been working hard in lock-down [3].

Jason Llewelyn, Branch Secretary CWU Durham said if the pandemic has taught us one thing it has taught us that the economy in this country, its infrastructure survived through the pandemic because of workers, normal working class people. They do jobs that quite often get unrecognised, like cleaners, delivery people, people working in hospitals and the lesson that will be learnt from that. It is the importance of those people, the importance of the trade unions and that next years Gala will be a celebration of that and the work we need to do.

Miriam Mafemba, a Unison representative and a staff nurse from Newcastle Hospitals said that this year has been an extremely challenging year for all of us working in an acute NHS Trust during the current pandemic. She said it has been particularly stressful and challenging and the solidarity amongst her colleagues and the support from the public has been amazing and this is the spirit of the Big Meeting. She said her union at this year's Gala would be calling on the government to properly recognise the work of health workers and start negotiations on a pay award for all health workers.

Marras banner

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said Durham was one of the highlights of the year for tens of thousands. He said Covid-19 has highlighted some of the injustices and inequalities in our society and we have seen a stark reminder of those in power who have failed to plan and prepare. This has been exacerbated by 10 years of austerity by those who have devastated our public services including the fire and rescue service. He said the crisis has shown who really matters and he said it is not those making the profits out of society but it is all those who have carried on our society so it can continue to function, both public service workers and workers in every sector as well. He said that beside the nice words we are already starting to see the attacks on workers as the bosses expect us to pay the price yet again for the crisis. He continued that we are already seeing tens of thousands of jobs under threat, or going. He said that we have to put a marker d own here at the Gala that we are not prepared to accept that and that we want to see a different way of doing things around the principles of our movement. He said, these are the principles of solidarity and socialism that we carry in our hearts and in our heads, of looking after each other, of putting workers at the heart of decision making and they should be the guiding light as we enter the post Covid-19 world. He concluded. "We can't be together today but we will over the coming months organise together, talk together, think for ourselves and organise for ourselves."

Val Clarke, a Unison health and safety representative and cleaner from Gateshead said that in spite of the massive disruption of Covid-19 with everyone pulling together we have found ways to get around the problems to keep everything running as smoothly as possible and that she was involved in doing checks to ensure that safety measures were put in place to protect key workers. She said we now need to continue and not be complacent.

Brass bands in the Durham miners' area contributing to celebrating this event online

Vinnie Humphries ASLEF train driver, Gateshead, said that train drivers have found themselves in a position of ensuring national and local transport routes have remained open for key workers needing to travel. He said it would have been much harder without the trade unions and they had been working together with workplace safety one of the paramount goals for the unions at this time of national emergency. He said in spite of the fact there is no Durham Miners' Gala this year the pride and unity of Gala will serve us in the struggle to come because our communities are facing serious hardship. He said we must hold the government to account and show that inequality is not just a way of life. All working people need pay that reflects their necessity so let's all stand together in solidarity and unity is strength.

Yvette Williams, Justice 4 Grenfell said how beautiful it was last year when the DMA visited Grenfell. She said she was proud that we both hold the biggest street celebrations in Britain. We have the Notting Hill Carnival in the South and you have this wonderful Gala in the North. She said the question of inequalities showed that the issue of race was an issue of class and we must join together to resist these conditions and we must fight to win. She said that when she stood with her daughter and watched Grenfell burn it told her everything that was wrong with the society that we live in. She said it was the community and others that gathered to join us that were left to look after people and there were no statutory services that came to assist us at the beginning. The cladding which burnt so rapidly was put onto the building to make it look pretty to the wealthy areas around Grenfell tower. She commented that three years after the fire, 23,000 homes still remain with cladding on and she commented that it is a bit like the Covid-19 pandemic a virus that has also quickly acquired the status of inequality in the communities where we live. She pointed out that those in power have chosen to leave out social inequality from the terms of reference of the current enquiry so there will be no recommendations that will be delivered for change.

She referred to the Black Lives Matter movement. George Floyd's murder showed that those who make the profits show us no humanity. At the same time, it lays bear that it is the exploitation of mining communities like in Durham, the Grenfell community, alongside the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade and the imperial plundering. She declared that we are the ones who have contributed to the world economy and everyone should be outraged at the murder of George Floyd and she said they need to remove their knees from our necks now. She said she had so much to share but wanted to tell everyone that ever since her father carried her in his arms in 1972 to see the demonstration in support of the miners in Saltley Birmingham, where they lived, she had known from him and since then from her own experience what solidarity really meant. She concluded by saying, remember the things that keep us together. "We have our culture, we have our organising and organisations, we have our strength, we h ave our communities and we have our love."

Workers' Weekly hails the contribution of The DMA that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the need to cancel the Gala, the online Gala has contributed an event that brings people together for a virtual "day in Durham", which continues the aims, struggles, sacrifices and aspirations of the working class seen itself over 135 Gala days and Big Meetings. This online event has in particular given a voice to workers speaking out in their own name in the present pandemic crisis taking a stand on livelihoods, safety, health and life and an end to the ruling elite's racist colonial legacy that it uses in its attempt to divide people.

This year has yet again been a manifestation where some 30,000 people have liked this online event, contributed, or taken part in its cultural presentations, its collective values and most of all in its defence of the the rights of all.

[1]Marras: Friends of Durham Miners' Gala

[2] Join us for an online celebration of the Durham Miners' Gala.

[3] Poem: Celebration of Teachers (15.30)


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