Aug 03 2016

DAVID HOPPER AND THE DURHAM MINERS GALA

David Hopper died on July 16th. He was the General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association and last spoke on Saturday July 9th at the Durham Miners Gala. This was attended by 150,000 people. David Hopper was central to the revival of this major working class political and social event, after the defeat of the heroic miners struggle in 1985. Dave Douglass, an ex-miner from County Durham and a member of the IWW and NUM has written the first piece posted here about David Hopper. This is followed by David Hopper’s own last speech given at the Gala.

 

1. DAVEY HOPPER , 1944-2016

Davey Hopper addressing Durham Miners Gala

Davey Hopper addressing Durham Miners Gala

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the role played by the ‘two Davies’ – Davie Guy and Davey Hopper, respectively the late president and general secretary of the North-East area of the NUM and Durham Miners Association.

The North-East, though no longer the senior coalfield area in size or NUM influence it was in the pre-war and early post-war years, still commanded a considerable position of influence in the early 1980s. It had a mixed history of entrenched political moderation and occasional outbursts of revolutionary trade unionism and militancy. Its size as a coalfield had dwarfed most of the other areas and, by the time it had been won to Labourism away from radical liberalism, its political influence was remarkable. In the post-war years, when Durham Miners Gala crowds reached 200,000 and more, no Labour or radical union leader could ignore its platform. In many ways it was the platform of labour debate, movement discussion, argument and rehearsal for party leadership challenges and struggles for the direction of the unions.

If Davey Hopper did nothing else, he placed the Durham Miners Gala right at the heart of the labour movement debate. He opened up its platform to voices stifled elsewhere, to mass ranks of solidly working class families and whole communities. There were 150,000 at this year’s event, held just a week before Davey died, with Jeremy Corbyn as the star speaker and dissident rightwing MPs publicly banned from the platform.

It was Davey and the broad left within the miners’ movement which had swung that whole coalfield from the ‘moderation’ of the post-war years and led the rank and file as part of the great revival of militancy in the 1970s. Even more centrally the agenda had been sufficiently changed, the debate sufficiently opened up, to ensure that, when the great crunch came in 1984, the Durham and Northumberland miners would strike as coalfields, despite the ballot that had declared to the contrary. This in a coalfield for whom ‘the constitution’ and doing things by the book had been a religious obsession. It ensured that Durham and Northumberland miners would be fighting it out on the picket line, along with the Yorkshire, Kent and South Wales miners, and not crossing it with official approval, as they were doing in Nottinghamshire.

Following our final defeat as a union in 1993, many areas wound down and more or less gave up any political or trade union role, simply concentrating on welfare work. Not so the DMA. While areas like Yorkshire – many times bigger – abandoned their annual gala, the Durham gala refused to die. It continued to discuss the struggles within the industry, mining across the world, together with wider labour, trade union and international political developments. Those bedrock communities of the Durham coalfield refused to die with their collieries, and year by year they have marched back with restored banners, and bands in ever increasing numbers – and now once again the gala platform is too big and too important to miss. Have no doubt: this is not nostalgia. This is the relevance of the labour movement and socialist message in the here and now – with, of course, hefty genuflections to our past struggles and heroes, and why not?

But Dave was much more than that. He set agendas, called conferences, intervened in protests with our bands and banners, marked triumphs and tragedies other union leaders cared not to remember. The Durham miners occupied pride of place during the Easter Rising commemoration this year, and marked the birthday of Jim Connell (the Irish republican and working class hero, who wrote ‘The Red Flag’) in Co Meath every year with our band and banners. In Durham we marked and discussed all the great turning points of the miners over the last two centuries – and drew out the lessons for this one.

The DMA under Davey was up to its armpits in the struggles for compensation for miners – although, of course, Arthur Scargill likes to take credit for our massive victories on chronic bronchitis and vibration white finger. In fact those cases were spearheaded by the Durham miners, when Arthur did not want to risk the funds. Recently the Durham miners lost a high court case to win £2 billion for crippled miners and their families in compensation for ‘miners knee’, when much bigger, richer areas invested nowt.

Davey ensured that DMA influence within the regional Labour apparatus continued, though he was frequently at war with Blairite councillors and MPs.

Apart from all that, Davey was a brilliant man for cracking a joke, as anybody who ever spent five minutes in his company would tell you. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of characters and events from the coalfields and his tales would keep you in stitches all night long. He had a great love for the region’s music, not least its brass bands, was a great historian and the most enriching of company.

Selfishly, I suppose, we tend to think, ‘What are we going to do now without you? We really didn’t need you to die.’ Nobody seems ready or able to fill Davey’s considerable boots or replace his ingenious, spontaneous and larger-than-life capacity for organisation and intervention in life. But the DMA must live on. The last mine in the Durham coalfield closed in 1993, yet in 2016 we staged the biggest gala in 60 years, discussing the most seismic labour movement events in decades. If we can survive without a coalmine as a centre of labour and trade union gravity, we owe it to Davey, and all he stood for and contributed, to carry on as he would have done.

28.7.16

This was first posted at:- http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1117/obituaries-two-miners-heroes/

For another article by David Douglass see:-

David Douglass reviews – Adrian Kerr, ‘Free Derry: protest and resistance’.

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2. GALA MESSAGE FROM DAVID HOPPER, DMA GENERAL SECRETARY 

I would first like to extend my deepest sympathy to the husband of Jo Cox, her young children and her wider family and friends who loved. She was an outstanding Member of Parliament, a deeply committed humanitarian and the labour movement can ill afford to lose such a valued and dedicated comrade.

Jo embodied the spirit of the labour and trades union movement; someone who fought for justice for those who had no voice. She understood the true value of unity above division and the need for international comradeship.

From a miner’s perspective, it is somehow fitting that Bernard Kenny was close to her when she was so brutally murdered. You will remember that Bernard, a 77-year-old former miner, was stabbed trying to protect Jo from her killer. Bernard was a member of the Mines Rescue Brigade and was present at the horrific Lofthouse disaster of 1973. He is a shining example to us all and a credit to the culture of mining communities the world over and we wish him a speedy recovery. We should all applaud his bravery.

It is in that spirit of solidarity and selflessness that we welcome the 132nd Durham Miners’ Gala. It will have a unique place in the history of our Big Meeting.

Not only do we have both a leader and a deputy leader of the Labour Party speaking – the first time since 1966– we also have Frances O’Grady, the leader of the Trades Union Congress giving an address.

It is a far cry from the days when New Labour dominated and Tony Blair refused to attend what is the biggest celebration of working class solidarity and community values in Europe. However, in hindsight, I think it was a blessing that the now totally discredited warmonger, whose actions destabilised the Middle East and gave rise to the so-called “Islamic State”, never sullied our platform. It would have been an insult to our mining families and our history.

Three of Blair’s former colleagues, however, did discover the merits of the Gala last year when they were contenders for the party leadership. We were pleasantly surprised when all three asked to speak despite having shown no interest ever before. They were disappointed because the only contenders we allowed onto the platform were both long standing supporters of the Gala – Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn, and we are delighted in their successful election.

Jeremy’s election – by a massive majority – is probably the most important political event in the labour movement since 1945. It expressed a total rejection of the discredited New Labour policies of the past, which were responsible for two humiliating general election defeats and an almost total wipeout in Scotland.

Jeremy’s election was an emphatic endorsement of socialist principles. It has transformed a party in decline, wrecked by professional self-serving careerists, into one which could galvanise the country against the imposition of austerity.

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 food banks, Jeremy Corbyn is, in fact, very much electable?

However, opposition from the enemies of working people is to be expected. What is totally unacceptable is the refusal by some Labour MPs to accept the democratic will of party members.

Just when the Tories are tearing themselves apart over Europe these dissidents are doing theirbest to undermine and weaken the leadership. We can only conclude that they would rather see the present government remain in power – carrying out their attacks on working people – than see the election of a Labour Party with a radical agenda.

Those members of the right-wing pressure group, inappropriately named “Progress”, have much to answer for in this regard and I believe that they should consider their position before the membership does it for them.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader because he is a decent, honest conviction politician and since he was elected the membership of the party has doubled in size.

Let us all get behind him and campaign for a party of a million members.

Let the message of this magnificent Gala be a rallying call for all to unite in the single most important task – to sweep the Tories out of power and elect a Labour government pledged to end austerity and work tirelessly in the interests of working people.

Britain has voted to leave the European Union (EU) and we face uncertain times. After much soul- searching I had decided to vote to remain as I thought that the rights of working people would be better safeguarded within the EU. However, of one thing we can be sure whether in or out the powers that be will try to make the working class pay for the continuing economic crisis.

Have a great day amongst comrades and a safe journey home.

28.6.16

This was first posted at:- http://www.durhamminers.org/gala_message

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also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/11/28/miners-stand-together-statement-by-the-num/

 

 

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