The Durham miners never gave up on their socialist principles – principles that are now reinvigorated in the era of Corbynism, says ALAN CUMMINGS
TODAY we will welcome another record crowd to Durham Miners’ Gala. This time it’s the 133rd Big Meeting.
More than 150,000 people will gather to celebrate the values of community, collective responsibility and trade unionism.
For some it is a mystery that so many attend a miners’ gala a generation after the last pit closed.
But to the Durham Miners’ Association it is a proud reminder that the culture and heritage of socialism is still alive and well.
In fact, this year that spirit is healthier than ever. It has been emboldened by the resurgence of hope among the young and the clamour for justice in society.
People are rediscovering the principles and values of the left. During the Blair years many saw the DMA as a bastion of “old-fashioned” socialism, out of touch with the seductive credit boom of New Labour.
I’m proud to say that we stood firm against this pernicious neoliberalism.
My much-missed colleagues Dave Hopper and Dave Guy kept the Gala going as a bulwark against the “Toryfication” of the Labour movement.
The “two Daveys” remained true to the vision that a socialist society is achievable.
In his last message to the Gala last year Hopper wrote: “Jeremy’s election [to the leadership of the Labour Party] was an emphatic endorsement of socialist principles.
“Predictably, the Establishment has united in fomenting a tsunami of hatred against Corbyn and McDonnell. They are derided as being ‘out of touch with the electorate.’ If this is true then why are the representatives of the rich and privileged so bothered?
“Could it be because they fear that the opposite may be true? Do they fear that Jeremy’s campaign against an increasingly unequal society is resonating with an electorate that increasingly expresses a widespread hatred of bankers and tax dodgers?
“An electorate increasingly disgusted that while those responsible for the economic crisis continue to enrich themselves, the poor and vulnerable are made to pay.
“Is it because they believe, as I do, that in a country where tens of thousands of families are reliant on the charity of foodbanks, Jeremy Corbyn is, in fact, very much electable?”
Corbyn has confounded his critics and made the case for a more socialist and caring manifesto and has provided a launching pad for gaining a majority in Parliament.
But gaining office is different from gaining power. The banks, the multinationals, the media moguls and the right-wing Establishment in general will do all they can to frustrate a Labour government with a socialist agenda.
However, recent tragic events have demonstrated that there is another power in the land — the power of community. This can be a power that changes society.
We need only look to the communities around Grenfell Tower where people from every nation gathered to support each other. All that in such sharp contrast to the Kensington kleptocracy that ran their local authority.
We need look only to the selfless, heroic actions of our firefighters and emergency service workers.
And we need look only to the resilient people of Co Durham who today celebrate a past rich in communal values and mutual trust.
They were based on principles. Principles they first began learning at the Gala as children. Principles that matured and grew in the harsh reality of pit life. Principles that could not be shaken by the lure of Blairism or the opportunist thinking of New Labour.
So we welcome trade union stalwarts, staunch supporters of Labour’s left and, most of all, those young (and some not so young) people who gather today to march in solidarity.
We welcome our speakers, all of whom will delight in the outpouring of support for a new socialist agenda.
They follow in a great tradition of Durham miners and radicals who fought for justice throughout the centuries.
It is probably right to leave the last words of this article to Hopper, who died just one week after last year’s Gala. Dave was an unflinching supporter of Corbyn.
He said: “We all have aspirations. Aspirations to live in an equal society where there is adequate social housing, schools and healthcare for everyone and where the sick and disabled are looked after and those who are unemployed are treated with dignity.
“It is not going to be easy but they [the Tories] have drawn the battle lines. We have to resist these attacks on the weakest in our society and give our youth an opportunity in life. So, let’s start the fightback at today’s Gala.”
The history of the Durham Miners’ Gala shows us that change is made by people of principle and a desire for justice. Today that history and heritage is honoured.
As the two Daveys would have said: “We’re proud to welcome you to Durham and all that we stand for.”