This Durham Miners’ Gala will be bigger, more important and more pertinent than usual. PETER FROST has some advice for those going.
THIS year’s Durham Miners’ Gala will be the biggest for a generation, says Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Dave Hopper.
“We expect even more than the 150,000 people who came last year to attend and to hear Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner and other speakers,” he said.
Miners’ leader Hopper has spoken out on two key political issues. The battle for Labour Party democracy and the fight against growing racism and xenophobia.
He told the Morning Star: “A group of so-called Labour MPs appear to have conspired to use the vote on EU membership — called by our political enemies, the Tories — as an excuse to overthrow our democratically elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
“These people, many of whom are unheard of, cannot stand any form of democracy and appear to be interested only in themselves.
“They are attempting to blame Corbyn for the way the people of this country have voted in a democratic referendum on EU membership. Do they really believe that ordinary voters do not know how they should vote?
“It is abundantly clear that ever since the election of Corbyn, these New Labour remnants have been plotting to remove him, and we must ask why.
“The reason is that they detest his socialist views and values and they believe they know better than the membership who gave him an overwhelming mandate to lead the Labour Party.
“The Durham Miners’ Association do not believe a leader who was given such a resounding mandate should be removed after only a short while in office. We must all unite to defend democracy in the Labour Party.”
Hopper has written to all the Labour MPs who challenged Corbyn’s leadership telling them they will not be welcome at the Gala.
Last year Corbyn was the only leadership candidate invited to speak at the Gala, although rivals Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper turned up and asked to be added to the panel of speakers.
Hopper announced to visitors at the Gala that he was “sick to death of people who wouldn’t touch us with a bargepole phoning us asking to speak.
“These are people who support continuing with Tory austerity and renewing Britain’s nuclear weapons. As long as I’m general secretary of this union, there’ll be no rightwingers here.”
This year he added another important theme. With immigration high on many political agendas, he told us: “Over the years, the Durham Miners’ Gala has welcomed people from all over the world.
“We have a proud history of standing up against fascism and racism. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish civil war, where the Durham miners stood in solidarity with the Spanish republic against the menace of fascism, and miners from across the Durham coalfield joined the fight to defend democracy.
“In later decades, during the horrendous apartheid regime in South Africa, black South African miners were invited to spend time with the families of Durham miners, where they were welcomed into our communities and treated like brothers and sisters.
“At the heart of our values is the conviction that all working people, whatever their race or religion, share the same common interests and we all need to work together to secure a better life for everyone.
“In difficult times, some seek to divide us against each other and to place the blame for all of society’s ills upon migrants.
We have seen this throughout history and we are seeing this again now — and it must be challenged.
“That’s why the Gala is so important as a tremendous symbol of togetherness, solidarity and hope.”
If you are planning to visit the Gala, perhaps for the first time, here are my top tips for getting the most out of what is one of the most important and enjoyable events of the entire British labour movement calendar.
Gala day often starts very early in the old colliery villages all around Durham. Bands and banners tour their home village before heading for the Gala.
You will need to arrive early. The centre of Durham is closed to traffic from 7am. There are three large park-and-ride car parks.
By 8.30am, the march will be forming up in three locations: the city centre marketplace, the Miners’ Hall at Red Hill near the railway station and the New Inn in the west of the city. You can expect over 75 bands and nearly 100 colourful banners.
The various legs come together at the Royal County Hotel at Old Elvet, where union leaders and guest speakers Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner will greet the march from the balcony and each band plays their own special piece.
The procession can take three or four hours to pass the hotel on the way to the racecourse.
As the banners arrive at the racecourse, they are put on display, creating part-art gallery and part-museum of working-class history.
Down by the river, rows of stalls sell everything from political books, badges, stickers, postcards, magazines and every kind of food and drink. There are fairground rides as well as exhibition marquees.
Traditionally, the best cakes, and best arguments, are in the Durham Labour Party tea tent. This year debate should be as hot and strong as the brew.
By 1pm all the banners are in position, the crowds in place as the platform party arrives to open the main meeting and make their keynote speeches.
Finally, as the evening arrives, banners are raised again as the various miners’ lodges decide it is time to head home, but in Durham’s many pubs the political argument will go on ’til late into the night.
First published in the Morning Star Miners’ Gala Special 8 July 2016.