Brass bands march the streets of Durham, union banners are held high and a community comes together to celebrate it’s identity. It’s the 142nd year of the Durham Miners Gala and it’s most certainly a year to remember. We publish here a report of this year’s “Big Meeting”, by a young Socialist Appeal supporter experiencing the event for the first time.
It’s the second Saturday of July. Brass bands march the streets of Durham, union banners are held high and a community comes together to celebrate it’s identity. It’s the 142nd year of the Durham Miners Gala and it’s most certainly a year to remember.
[For a video about this year’s “Big Meeting”, see here]
“The Big Meeting” has been an annual event since it was inaugurated in 1871 by the Durham Miners Association. Every year ordinary working class people come together and march through Durham amongst multitudes of brass bands in celebration of trade union values. The music is played continuously throughout the day with people singing along and generally having a good time and all this is mixed in with a decent dose of lefty politics.
This year the the turnout was easily in the hundreds of thousands (despite the BBC’s reporting the event as just ‘thousands’ attending). The speeches that take place at the racecourse in Durham city centre, are typically of a left-wing nature. Previous speakers include Tony Benn, Billy Bragg and Ken Livingstone as well as Labour Leader Ed Miliband who spoke at the 2012 Gala. This year’s speakers included journalists Kevin Maguire and Owen Jones, actor and activist Ricky Tomlinson, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, RMT General Secretary Bob Crowe, and Unite General Secretary Len McClusky.
All of the speeches opposed austerity and the coalition government. It’s easy to see why not-so-red Ed decided to give it a miss this year as the lukewarm reception he was given last year’s event would most definitely have been replaced with an angry and contemptuous response this time round.
Miliband’s recent attack on the unions was a running theme throughout the speeches. Bob Crowe called for the unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. The fact that this was fairly well received by the crowd shows how Labour has really shot itself in the foot. In contrast to this however, journalists Kevin Maguire and Owen Jones and Len McClusky all made the case for workers to reclaim the Labour Party which was just as, if not more, positively received than Bob Crowe’s contribution. This indicates that despite the divide in opinion regarding the Labour Party, there is still a support amongst trade unionists and the working class to reclaim the party founded to represent the labour movement.
What was particularly inspiring about the speeches, however, was how trade union leaders such as Crowe and McClusky were talking about the failure of capitalism and the need for socialism. Hearing a crowd of ordinary working class people cheering to these ideas is hugely encouraging to say the least. It demonstrates how attitudes amongst workers and youth are not, as the bourgeois media and politicians suggest, in support of capitalism and its logic of austerity, but that there is a real yearning for a genuine alternative to the misery that the current economic system forces upon us.
The experience of The Durham Miners Gala can’t be summed up in an article. You absolutely have to see it to believe it. In an age where working class people are feeling the brunt of the capitalist system more than ever, here is an event which laughs in the face of it. There is all the anger and militancy of a demo combined with the fun and flair of a street party. Much of this is thanks to Dave Hopper and the late Dave Guy who, despite the destruction of the mining industry, resurrected the Gala and transformed it into the phenomenal event it is today. The experience is both moving and an inspiration, and is something any socialist or even generally left-leaning politically minded person should attend at least once in their lives. Ultimately, it is the celebration of the working class and it’s struggle against the ruling classes and for a socialist society.