Davey Hopper, General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association, died suddenly on 16 July.
The defeat of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike destroyed communities, lives and set back the cause of working class struggle for a generation. No one knew that better then Hopper, and he with others devoted the next 30 years of his life to turning the Durham Miners’ Association into a force which fought back for the community and the wider movement.
Hopper was a working miner and shop steward in the Durham coalfield at the start of the Miners strike. He rose to prominence as an advocate of militant prosecution of the strike against a more right wing leadership. By the end of the strike he had been elected to lead the Durham area miners.
After the strike as the government shut the pits, Hopper, along with Dave Guy and others, decided the Durham Miners Association wouldn’t just slide quietly into industrial history but would become a force for ongoing struggle. They struggled for support and justice for the ex miners, for compensation and support for those who were suffering from illness and injuries. They also fought against cuts, and for facilities for the ex-coal mining communities.
But for Hopper, and others in the Durham Miners’ Association, their main legacy is saving and then building the Durham Miners Gala into the largest labour movement gathering in Europe. They got other unions involved, and encouraged local communities to view the banners and history of the miners’ lodges. For the first time they made the politics of the day central.
Unfortunately that politics is often the “common sense” of the union bureaucracies or the Stalinist Morning Star newspaper. But lately there had been some shift in politics. For instance having a Donbass miners’ leader speak both condemning Russian aggression in the region and the Ukrainian government’s neo-liberalism. The Gala gave Jeremy Corbyn a huge boost by inviting him as their main speaker in 2015 when his campaign for leadership was just starting, and putting pressure on unions to back him. This year the Durham Miners Association made it known that any MP supporting the anti-Corbyn Coup was not welcome. Corbyn then addressed 150,000 people at the Gala itself.
The Gala is an event whose resurgence is a defiant two fingers to those who wanted to destroy the organisation and confidence of the working class. For that alone we owe Davey Hopper a great debt.