The 129th Durham Miners’ Gala was the biggest in many years. Over 150,000 people of all ages packed out the ancient City, whose Castle and Cathedral provided a fitting background for such an impressive display of banners - around 80 - and the booming brass bands that were cheered all the way by applauding onlookers.
The pits have long since disappeared. But the miners fight for better pay, improved working conditions, equality and social justice live on through the participating unions that represent workers in other industries and occupations.
Photography by Mark Harvey
One of the biggest contingents was from Unite, whose members had travelled from all regions of Britain and Ireland. They were led by the colourful North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional banner and accompanied by the highly entertaining Unite brass band. Miners from the salt mine near Whitby included former coalminers recently employed there.
The rally at the Racecourse gala field was a truly magnificent sight and the speakers - Owen Jones, Margaret Aspinall, Kevin Maguire, Frances O’Grady, Bob Crow and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey - all attracted applause from the huge crowd. Maguire, the associate editor at the Daily Mirror, came armed with a £1,000 cheque from MP Dennis Skinner as funds are urgently needed to keep what is now the biggest union event in the country going. O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, urged people to “defend the NHS.”
McCluskey attacked the government for hypocrisy by scrapping the Agricultural Wages Board, that protected pay and conditions for low-paid agricultural workers, whilst raising MP's salaries and cutting taxes for millionaires. He noted that each year £40 billion is lost in tax avoidance and called on corporate giants and the super rich to pay their taxes.
The former Liverpool docker defended Unite’s fight for more working-class representation in Parliament saying: “The Parliamentary Labour Party does not look like, or think like, the working class communities it is supposed to represent. That is a problem as the Labour Party can only exist if it remains the voice of ordinary working people.”
McCluskey was not against re-examining the link between unions and Labour as “let’s face it, the block vote has not brought socialism. But if we are to convince thousands of working class people to join they will want to know if the next Labour government will reverse the coalition’s disastrous policies and will also be different from the Brown-Blair years as well. If Labour has learned then this scheme will work.” He drew the largest applause on a blistering hot afternoon that many people will remember fondly for many years to come.
They include Callum Stanland, a Unite community member aged 19 from Grimsby, who said: “This is a fantastic event that remembers the past in order to give hope for a better future in which the current high unemployment levels are slashed and we have decently paid work for all.”