The old Racecourse in Durham was quiet at 8-00am on Saturday Morning,
the stalls were setting up along the river bank, the kids rides and the
hot dog vans weren’t doing too much business, giving the amused
stallholders a chance to watch 3 Socialist Appeal supporters (4 would
have been better) trying to put up the gazebo to shelter the book stall.
The old Racecourse in Durham was quiet at 8-00am on Saturday Morning, the stalls were setting up along the river bank, the kids rides and the hot dog vans weren’t doing too much business, giving the amused stallholders a chance to watch 3 Socialist Appeal supporters (4 would have been better) trying to put up the gazebo to shelter the book stall.
But it wasn’t long before the first of 50 brass bands and 80 miner’s banners began to enter the field. The Gala is a huge event, more than 100,000 people, ex miners of all ages, their kids, grand kids and great grand kids marching in step with the music and proudly following the banner of their lodge.
Many other banners were on show, marking the importance of the Gala for the whole of the Labour movement. With the RMT, UNISON, UNITE and the GMB having their own tents on the field.
The best place to stand to sell the Socialist Appeal is at the top of the bank that runs down into the field. This year we had a good spread of sellers, covering both sides of the road and a couple of spots along the way up towards the County Hotel. Some years it’s quite hard work selling on the bank. But this year the Gala special went down very well. A steady stream of people came up to buy a paper and for a discussion. Fortunately one of the comrades on the bookstall came up to replenish our stocks of papers every hour or so.
By quarter to one the speeches had just about begun and we had sold more than 50 papers on the bank. By then a good number of Socialist Appeal supporters, from various bits of Yorkshire, the North East, Peterborough and Worcester had checked in.
Meanwhile the bookstall had been going well. Our intervention has developed over the years and we have the best stock of Marxist classics and international material of the half dozen left stalls along the street behind the stage. The stall attracted a lot of attention, there seemed a real thirst for Marxist ideas. The Lucha de Clases from Spain and Fightback from Ireland sold well as well as copies of the Four Marxist Classics and other material.
There was a different mood at this year’s Gala. In part this was generated by the presence of Ed Miliband, the first Labour leader to address the Gala since Kinnock in 1989. Certainly the numbers of people gathered around the stage to listen to the speakers was much higher than in recent years. The presence of the Leader of the Labour Party inevitably created a lot of interest. However, under the present economic and political conditions, it’s no surprise that many people were listening hard to hear what Ed Miliband had to say. The Labour movement lifted its sights a year or so ago, with the monster demonstration on March 26th and since then we’ve had the biggest strike movement since 1926. The Labour leadership have been lagging a long way behind the members.
Mark Serwotka’s remarks about the Labour leader’s attitude towards the public sector and the cuts and particularly the fighting words from the Asturian Miners representatives clearly hit a strong chord with the thousands of people listening to the speeches, before Miliband got up to speak. The significance of the Labour leader speaking at the Gala for the first time since 1989 shouldn’t be underestimated. But not for the reasons that Baroness Warsi and the Daily Telegraph would have their supporters imagine. The Labour movement has begun to emerge from its long slumber and as the trade union conferences this year illustrate there is a growing understanding among workers of the need for Labour to express the political aspirations and voice of the trade union movement. Leon Trotsky explained in the Transitional Programme all about holiday speechifying, but it’s clear from the content of Miliband’s speech that the mood among trade union members, which was expressed in this year’s trade union conference hasn’t gone completely unnoticed , which is why we have reproduced it here.
Here is what he said:
I come here to honour the tradition of the Durham Miners Gala. I come here to honour the tradition of the North East and I come here to honour this great Labour tradition. I also come here humbled by the history of this great Gala and the names of the people who have spoken to this gathering echo down the ages. Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, Manny Shinwell, Clement Atlee, Aneurin Bevan, Jim Callaghan, Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and so many great leaders of our movement. Friends I am proud to follow in their footsteps, I am proud to be with you here today.
Let me say this. The trade unions founded the Labour Party. Our party is stronger because of the 3 million nurses engineers shop workers and all of the trade union levy payers who are part of our movement. That was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true tomorrow as well. And friends it was the Trade Unions that founded this great event to fight for wages for the miners. Today I honour that heritage. I moved by that spirit that I’ve seen of people marching for five or six hours to come into this park and I pay tribute to your struggles. And let me say this also, coal is not just an important part of our heritage, clean coal must be an important of our future as well.
I fought for clean coal as part of the last Labour Government, I promise you that as Prime Minister I will fight for clean coal as part of the next Labour Government as well.
100 years ago at a gathering like this Keir Hardie came and spoke to people and he said in that speech, that neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Party could be trusted to advance the interests of working people. Friends it was true then and it is true today as well. Remember what the Tories said they said “We’re all in this together and what have we seen? We’ve seen one rule for those at the top of society and another rule for everyone else. They cut taxes for millionaires and raise taxes for pensioners. Its business as usual for the banks and small businesses are going under and the cruelest thing of all what this government are doing to our young people, what this government is doing to young people the length and breadth of Great Britain. I grew up in the 1980’s, I remember the 1980’s. I remember the lost generation of young people in the 1980’s. We said then we would never go back to those days but that is what is happening under this government. So friends let us take a vow today, to our young people. We will never leave you without hope, we will never leave you without work, we will never leave you without a future.
And what does this government want to do, all it wants to do is divide our country. Divide our country between public sector and private sector. But you know, I know we’re not the public sector and the private sector, we’re not the public economy and the private economy. We are one economy. We depend on each other. When they stop building schools it leaves construction workers in the private sector out of work. That’s why we are one economy, public and private and we depend on each other.
And friends they try to divide our country between rich and poor and between North and South, they’re the same old Tories. Not building for the future, but ripping up the foundations. Not healing our country but harming it. Not uniting our country, but dividing it and then think of the values of the people at this great Gala. One of them who is coming today wrote to me this week; his father and his grandfather were miners he lives in Meadowfield, today he is a full time carer of his mother aged 91. He knows the values of compassion, he represents the great values of this Gala and of Durham. Community, looking out for each other and never walking by on the other side. Friends, these are the values of the people of Durham. These are the values of the people of the North East. But let me tell you something else, these are the values of the people of Britain as well. The values of the people of Britain, South North East and West. They’re not Tory values, they are our values, values of compassion, values of care, values of community, values of looking after each other.
Now these Tories, they want to blame everyone else for what is happening to our country, but here is the truth, the problem of Britain is not a government being let down by its people, it is the people being let down by its government and this is the task for the next Labour Government as it was in 1945 as it was in 1964 as it was in 1997 to rebuild Britain, to rebuild Britain for working people in this country, And that is the task we will start on day one of the next Labour Government. Tax the bankers bonuses and put our young people back to work and get our young people working again.
Break up our banks so that instead of a country serving its banks, we have banks that serve the country once again. Break the power of Rupert Murdoch as Tom Watson has so brilliantly done, so that no one media organisation can ever exercise that power ever again in this country. Wherever there is injustice, we should tackle it. Wherever there is unfairness we should fight it and to anyone who says, and there are some of them here today who says it can’t be done let us remember our history. 100 years ago they said there could never be a Labour Government. We fought the Tories and we won, then they said there could never be a National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan fought the Tories and we won. Then they said education would only be for the elite and we fought for the principle of education for all and we won. Then they said there could never be a minimum wage and people would be paid 50p an hour , we fought for the minimum wage, we fought the Tories and we won.
It is coming together, we are inspired by our traditions, we take courage from the battles we have won and we understand our task for the future, to rebuild our country on the values of the people of Durham, on the values of the people of the North East, on the values of the people of Britain. Responsibility, community, fairness, equality and justice. That is my mission, that is our task, that is the battle we can win together.
Thank you very much.
Unsurprisingly, the words Socialism and Nationalisation never made an appearance in the speech, but Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, the NHS, Comprehensive Education, acknowledgement of the struggles of the miners and the trade union and working class base of the Labour Party and fighting the Tories all did, which by the standards of New Labour over the last 20 years or so is significant. This is all somewhat different to what Blair or Gordon Brown might have said had they spoken at the Gala, which of course they didn’t. But then again under the current political and economic conditions, with vicious attacks on working people, it was too vague and didn’t go anywhere near far enough. Capitalism is in a deep crisis and the only effective answer to this impasse is the Socialist Transformation in Britain, Europe and internationally. A few people tried to disrupt Miliband’s speech, but to no avail, there were too many people in the way and their attention was elsewhere.
The Durham Miners fought hard in the great strike and were proven correct when they warned that Tories planned to smash up the whole industry. But people learn through experience. That is why the Gala remains as the Big Meeting. It is a focus for the Labour movement in the region and throughout the land. The Gala is the biggest Labour Movement event in Britain and would have provided an excellent opportunity to launch a socialist programme and an appeal for thousands of workers to join the party and drive out Cameron and Clegg. There is a clearly a long way to go.
As far as our intervention was concerned, in total about 25 Socialist Appeal supporters attended on the day, the mood among the comrades was excellent; we sold more than 120 papers. It was particularly noticeable that Socialist Appeal had more sellers on the day than groups which are ostensibly larger and more influential. We are proud that we are rebuilding the profile of genuine Marxism in the Labour movement in Britain.
As we packed away the stall, we realized that it was almost 5pm, the event was just about breaking up and people were making their way back up the Old Elvet towards Durham. Last year the rain had come down like stair rods and we’d packed up about 3pm. This year it was much, much, better, there’s not much we can do about the weather. But the tide has turned politically. Next year the Marxists won’t just be back, we’ll be back, stronger.