Sunday, July 11, 2010

"The fightback starts here" - David Hopper at Durham was the 126th Durham Miners Gala, or the "Big Meeting" as it is locally known, a great reassertion of working-class tradition, showing that, in spite of everything that has been done to them, the spirit of the mining communities defiantly lives on.

The uniquely traditional aspects will have been there, of course, from the blessing of union banners in the cathedral to the beer and the bands and, doubtless, the dancing in the street. The banners have always been a colourful eclectic reflection of influences, from the religious, and the "Socialism through Evolution" to the Chopwell banner depicting Marx, Lenin and Keir Hardy.

I was stuck in London dutifully attending a somewhat smaller meeting yesterday. But I am pleased to hear that members of my union were out with their flags among the thousands marching besides the miners and others in Durham. And the days when Durham miners' leader Sam Watson, a Labour Party chairman (1949) tipped for ministerial office , could make the Gala a celebration of contentment, and platform for Labour leaders, are well gone.

Besides miners' leaders, this year's platform line-up included Ken Livingstone, left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, PSC assistant general secretary Chris Baugh, whose members are gearing up to fight the cuts, and Nour Alabassi, women’s representative of the Jafra Palestine Refugee Centre in Damascus. Sam Watson was a leading Labour Friend of Israel, where he was a regular visitor, and has a room named after him in the Knesset building.

The tone for the gala this year was set by Durham Miners' Association general secretary David Hopper, in a programme statement (also published in Friday's Morning Star:

"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.They are prepared for the inevitable onslaught on the social wage and the forthcoming attacks on the sick and infirm, who happen to be on state benefits.

Our people have learned the lessons of the past. That is why not one of the parliamentary seats in the counties of Durham and Tyne and Wear fell to the Tories or Lib Dems, and why there were Labour gains all over our region in the May local authority elections.

The first Durham Miners' Gala was held in the city 140 years ago. Alexander McDonald, the leader of the first National Miners Association, delivered a thundering speech to the crowds.

"If nothing will move our rulers - if the cry of our widows and orphans will not move them - then I say all the miners in Durham, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Staffordshire and in Wales and Scotland should lay down their tools," he said.

He was speaking after Parliament failed to pass the Mines Inspection Bill. His call was greeted with cheers and cries of "We will, we will!"

Today people take to the streets for the 126th gala. 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.

During its 13 years in power the new Labour government missed many opportunities to redress the balance between rich and poor, and in the end failed miserably.

The whole deceitful programme of the war in Iraq and the unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan proved that most Labour MPs were just voting fodder for Blair.

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?

Then came the spectacle of Gordon Brown's coronation - a disaster from start to finish. He bailed out a corrupt banking system and under his stewardship new Labour lurched from crisis to chaos at every turn. It was a miracle we did not get obliterated in the general election.

For former miners the new Labour government's refusal to introduce a compensation scheme for knee problems, similar to that for vibration white finger, was a huge blow. We now have to take such claims to court in an attempt to gain justice. Such cases are costly and often time-consuming. Many of our members are elderly, and may never see any compensation.

A number of candidates are now contending for the Labour Party leadership. Nearly all are new Labour to the core, Blair or Brown men who helped to prop up policies that widened the gap between rich and poor.

We need a leader who can embrace the whole party, one who can be an inspiration to the people of this country, because there are many battles that lie ahead if we are to eradicate poverty in our society, and retain free health care and education for all.

Whoever wins must not be allowed the same autocratic power that Blair had to use the party as their own, ignoring the wishes and opinions of the membership.

Today's event takes place as the coalition government plans swingeing cuts in state benefits. Because of our past industrial heritage massive numbers of people in our region receive incapacity benefit and employment support allowances. In many cases these people served a lifetime in mining, shipbuilding and ship repair, in the steelworks and in wider manufacturing. We must protect them.

Just as at the first gala 140 years ago, the fight has to carry on. Circumstances have changed, but the battle between labour and capital still remains. The bankers were bailed out with billions of pounds, but the workers have to struggle to advance their cause.

We have been shown a good example by our sisters and brothers in Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe. They have mobilised and taken to the streets to defend their living standards. Perhaps we can learn a lesson from them.

I believe this year's gala will once again show the collective will and determination of our people. We expect a bumper turnout of bands, banners and people to show that the spirit of our communities has not been extinguished.

The fightback starts here."

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home