Over 70,000 people gathered to
march, or to enthusiastically cheer, as 160 trades union and socialist banners
were paraded through Durham at the 124th Durham
Miners’ Gala. Known throughout Durham as “The Big Meeting”, this wonderful
event was threatened with disappearance when the Tories destroyed the Durham
mining industry. But the working class is tenacious and has turned the annual
Miners Gala into an international trades union festival, with banners even
coming from Australia!
Each year since the closure of Durham’s
last deep mine has seen the Gala grow in the numbers of people attending to
enjoy the atmosphere and listen to political speakers, many of whom have
criticised the New Labour, anti-socialist, project. This year exceeded everyone’s
expectations, with 90 more banners arriving than had been predicted. The Big
Meeting turned out to be the biggest for fifty years! This doesn’t just reflect
a growing interest in seeing banners paraded around the street – especially not
on a day when rain had been forecast – but rather says something about the
attitude of working people who are keen to express solidarity with one another
in increasingly troubled times. There was more evidence for this when the
speakers came to the platform and every radical opinion was cheered, whilst any
hint of support for New Labour met with vocal hostility.
The tide is starting to turn!
Here we publish the text
of David Hopper’s message to the 124th Durham
Miner’s Gala. David is General
Secretary of the Durham
I would like to extend a big welcome to
every one of our supporters who has come to celebrate our history and heritage
on this the 124th Durham Miners’ Gala.
I believe that the ‘Big Meeting’ goes from
strength to strength because at its heart are the ageless values of socialism
reflected in the slogans on our banners. They are our testimony to a long
struggle for social justice, for a fundamental redistribution of wealth, and
for working class solidarity against a system based on greed. It is the
enthusiasm for these values that drives our Gala forward.
This enthusiasm, however, is not
reflected in support for ‘New Labour’ who have just presided over a catastrophe
in the local elections, losing 330 council seats and sinking to 24% of the vote,
the lowest since 1968. Durham
has been Labour’s heartland for ninety years. It was the Durham County Council
which was the first in Britain
to be won by Labour under the leadership of miners’ official Peter Lee. Labour
have never lost control but now their majority is reduced to just eight of the new Unitary
I share the disgust of many party members
in the unprincipled way ‘New Labour’ manoeuvred to suspend former leader of the
Durham County Council and former miner Albert Nugent excluding him from holding
office in the new authority. This is just symptomatic of a general
degeneration. Democracy has been destroyed within the Labour party and anyone
who dares to criticise is condemned for wanting a Tory Government back. But who
is responsible for creating the conditions for a return of the Tories?
When millions of people marched against
war, Blair and Brown ignored the warning and took us into an illegal war that
has led to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. They have
introduced privatization into the health and education services and civil
rights have been eroded. But the greatest condemnation of ‘New Labour’ is the
fact that after 11 years of their government the gap between rich and poor has
widened. While prices rise and poor working class families struggle to make
ends meet they see our erstwhile Prime Minister, the architect of’ New Labour’,
in the vulgar pursuit of self enrichment. They see Labour MPs fighting to
prevent the details of their expenses being made public. It is all this that
has made ‘New Labour’ unelectable.
We do not want the return of a Tory
government but if Labour is to win the next election the ideology of ‘New Labour’
has to be thrown into the bin. Only a return to the socialist policies that
have inspired generations can salvage a future for the Labour Party.
It comes as no surprise that Brown has
followed Blair’s tradition by refusing to speak at this, the largest working
class gathering in the United
Kingdom. However, I don’t think it’s going
to spoil our day. This year we welcome the production of five new banners,
Eppleton, Crookhall, Handon Hold, Thornley and Durham Aged Miners Homes. All
are fine banners made in the Durham
tradition. Best wishes and many thanks to you all and your communities. Have a
fantastic day in Durham.