Over 100,000 people came out for the glorious sunshine, music, banners, politics, history and beer at the Durham Miners’ Gala on 12 July.
For over a hundred years the miners used to march with their banners and brass bands through Durham. This tradition nearly died after the closure of the pits, but the event has been reinvented. The ex-pit communities now walk with the banners, and other unions turn out with their banners and bands. The speakers are from a broad range of unions.
Seeing the union movement with our banners flying and enthusiastic mass support is inspiring. Some of the speeches were less so.
The sharpest speech was from a leader of the Ukrainian mine workers union who spoke about the importance of fighting for pay and conditions and about keeping the independence and unity of Ukraine. He also spoke about the importance of independent unions.
Other speakers included the general secretaries or presidents of the NUT, GMB, ASLEF, CWU and the POA. The leaders of the unions who were on strike on 10 July did not really explain what their strategy to win was; they preferred talking about the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and the legacies of Tony Benn and Bob Crow.
Labour MP Dennis Skinner was well received; although he didn't criticise the Labour leadership by name he did call for the party’s manifesto to be created by the labour movement as a whole at mass meetings like Durham and not by unrepresentative MPs.
Skinner is right. The same is true of the trade movement. We should use these mass gatherings to help advocate a rank and-file fightback.