Jul 08 2017

DURHAM MINERS’ GALA – BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

The 133rd Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday 8th July will see some 150,000 march through the ancient city. Dave Douglass, ex-miner and author of Stardust and Coaldust autobiographical trilogy looks at its  history and the ongoing significance.

 

BIG MEETING GETS BIGGER

 

 

A day of looking back and looking forward

Crowds are now back to the size they were in the immediate post-war years following nationalisation, when they celebrated the defeat of the hated private coal-owners. This mother of all miners’ galas, featuring both picnics and demonstrations, was the labour movement’s most prestigious public platform. The miners formed the bedrock among the proletarian, trade union and socialist ranks; they made up an army of labour that was strategically placed in terms of their bargaining power and influence – the politics of coal dictated much of politics per se. The position of the miners in the class war sent waves across the broad labour movement.

To appear on the platform of the Durham Miners’ Gala, or Big Meeting, was often to announce a forthcoming leadership challenge within the Labour Party or within the NUM or other union. It often signified a challenge to current policy or direction; it tested attitudes, prepared for forthcoming militant action (or its opposite). These crowds, these unions in general and this union in particular were for a century or more the presidium of the labour movement’s soul.

In the tradition of the Chartists, miners held mass rallies on moors and fenlands – often they would march from the various lodges all day to reach the Big Meeting, to express their outrage at the impositions and injustices of the coal-owners and to announce their united resistance. With the Durham and Northumberland miners’ associations firmly established and here to stay, the first actual Durham Miners’ Gala in 1871 preceded the foundation of the Miners Federation of Great Britain (1889). Previous attempts to build miners’ unions over the preceding two centuries had been ruthlessly suppressed through violence, lock-out and starvation. There were over a million coal-miners immediately preceding World War I, when the world’s biggest ever single-industry strike was launched. The Durham miners made up no less than 200,000 of them – they were often highly political and militant class warriors, for whom the union was the soul of their communities.

The gala has always picked its guest speakers through the democratic vote of the lodges. Irish republican speakers were popular guests in the early years, reflecting the influence of the Irish in the northern mines, as well as a deep political sympathy and sense of solidarity. Its star-studded platforms have featured everyone from Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin to, among rather more recent popular and regular speakers, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner. But the gala is no platform for back-slapping, mutual appreciation: vexed speeches and tub-thumping, fierce arguments have been no stranger to this platform. In 1914 Jim Larkin of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union denounced the leaders of the Durham Miners Association and urged the miners to turn them out. Members of the Communist Party wearing Red Army uniforms had blocked the stairway to the platform to men too ‘moderate’ in their view.

Debate has often been fractious, such as when a left leadership emerged and challenged the old-guard constitutionalists, or when moderate Labour leaders attempted to sell us restraint and collaboration – as with James Callaghan’s social ‘con trick’, a policy which saddled us with the ‘incentive scheme’ that helped cripple united action in the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85. Sometimes it was foreign policy, as when George Brown was heavily heckled over ‘the special relationship’ with the US of Harold Wilson’s government during the Vietnam war. Turning fiercely on a young miner in the crowd with a cloth cap and shoulder-length hair, Brown suggested: “If you’d have your hair cut, young man, we might be prepared to listen to you.” The crowd of tens of thousands looked round at the lad, who silently and without further comment removed his cap to show a completely bald head, rendering Brown speechless among howls of laughter.

After Neil Kinnock’s shameful fence-sitting and ballot-mongering during the 1984-85 strike, he was nonetheless booked to speak in 1989 – the bands marched straight by instead of playing the customary piece in the leader’s honour. Worse, when he took the platform, the entire crowd of men, women and children – thousands upon thousands of them – simply turned and walked away, leaving a near empty field, and a deeply embarrassed Kinnock. It was years and years before another Labour leader dared to accept an invite. I was with Davie Hopper, the Durham NUM general secretary who sadly died a week after last year’s gala, when a message was received saying Ed Miliband would be prepared to speak at the gala in 2013 – but not if Bob Crow was on the same platform. The air was blue – Dave made it crystal-clear that it is the Durham NUM who decide who speaks on our platform, not the Parliamentary Labour Party. In case you were wondering, it was Bob who spoke.

Pageant

But the gala is more than just a political meeting. It is a pageant of our collective history – the banners and their themes record the struggles since the 1700s; key players now long since gone, key turning points of history; and our progress. Each decade a new pattern was woven into its collective tapestry, scenes from 1984-85 now join 1832, 1926 and all stops in between. As miners’ children we learned our class history – it was often said that as a pit-village child you didn’t get stories of ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’, but rather ‘Churchill and the general strike’.

It is a case of great and great-great grandparents, generation on generation. I was carried to Durham on my Da’s shoulders, as he had been on his. But now the link is broken – no more sons and grandsons follow their forebears down the pit or add their own pages to the miners’ history. The last Durham coal mine closed in 1993 following the defeat of our last stand against John Major’s and Michael Heseltine’s ‘final solution to the problem of the miners’. They quickly demolished headgear, colliery buildings, pit heads and heaps, and tried to wipe us from memory, tried to make us become simply part of some amorphous, undifferentiated ‘new service’ workforce, tried to destroy who we were.

Many thought the gala would die, for what was its purpose now? But the Durham miners and the Durham villages refused to go away, refused to abandon their class and tradition. Banner groups were formed, the bands played on: the mission of the gala – the cause of labour and the unions – remained. Under the leadership of the two Davies (Guy and Hopper) the gala has gone from strength to strength. Inspired by its dogged determination, I christened the last book of my Stardust and Coaldust trilogy Ghost dancers. The ghost dancers made up the revivalist, political-spiritual resistance of native Americans, who believed that, if they dressed in their traditional manner, held onto their own values and principles and kept on dancing and beating their drums, the white man would lose his power, the buffalo would return to the prairie, and they would be able to claim back their culture and land.

Ten years after the closure of the last Durham mine, 55,000 pit folk and their friends followed their bands and banners through the thronged street of Durham. The big drum was still bashed, the martial music rang out and miners like guardsmen proudly carried their banners high in the wind. I thought ‘ghost dancers’ – as long we keep parading, keep bashing those drums, stick to our values and culture, the pits will reopen, the Tories will be no more and Arthur Scargill will walk on water again. Well, perhaps not quite, but the case for deep-mined coal and the need to revive our industry and reclaim our union from the bureaucracy and the museum is as strong as ever. Somewhere on Jeremy Corbyn’s long ‘to do’ list, we are hoping, is resurrection of the industry. No, not a million miners again – we’re not stupid – but at the moment 40 million tonnes of heavily subsidised coal is imported for British manufacture and power, when we could mine it here. Coal power is still the cheapest form of energy generation and with carbon capture it need not cost the earth.

But the gala is much more than that. It is also a place for the young ’uns for wild gaanin’s on – ever since the days of the straw boater and blazer (yes, they did) and miners’ girls dancing the Charleston in their flapper dresses and beads to the strains of the band. And from the days when the local press called it the Teddy Boys’ Picnic and when there were mini-‘Woodstocks’ on the river banks and in the woods, this has always been a place where you could strut your stuff and find interesting partners. For the kids, it is a day of funfairs, of numerous stalls, ice cream, burger and chips, and candy floss, of bingo prizes and of boating on the river. It is a day of drinking and bravery – diving into the river from the bridges with your shirt off. Once it was also a day of inter-village fights – thankfully now just a memory. But it is still a day of dancing through the streets – at the end of the day the bands play on and the crowds link arms and dance back through Durham’s streets, while folk musicians recall our musical and lyrical legacy in pubs.

This year the banners will be draped in respect of Davie Hopper and Davie Guy – two men who held this union and this event together and ensured the Durham Miners Association is still a vibrant and vital part of the labour and trade union movement. My latest book (soon to be reviewed in this paper, Red banner, green rosette) is dedicated to them and also Dennis Murphy, the late leader of the Northumbrian Miners. They were men who led this ancient and once mighty coalfield in the greatest and most bitter battle of its existence. They ensured that this coalfield and this union would expire with all the courage and dignity our history would expect. If it had slunk off behind armoured buses, put itself at the disposal of Margaret Thatcher and collapsed into a forgotten corner of history, we would all have died of shame. With the help of those blokes we never lost that dignity – or class courage – to the last man standing. This will be plainly evident on those Durham streets.

I hope to see you in the field or along the route, or in the evenings in the bar – all in a county where we chew the cud, down some beer and raise the roof in song.

 

This article was first posted at:- http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1162/big-meeting-gets-bigger/

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also see:-

DAVID HOPPER AND THE DURHAM MINERS GALA

 

JAMES CONNOLLY, THE 1916 EASTER RISING AND THE DURHAM MINERS ASSOCIATION

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For other articles by Dave Douglass see:-

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

 

DAVE DOUGLASS REVIEWS GREGOR GALL’S ‘TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO?’

 

The debate continues: The Jacobites strike back

 

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Jul 07 2017

NO G20, NO UK – SCOTLAND GOES TO HAMBURG

The SSP was involved in leading the socialist opposition to the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Connor Beaton is currently representing the Scottish Socialist Party at the anti-G20 protest in Hamburg. Here is his report posted on the SSP blog. (https://scottishsocialistparty.org/no-g20-no-uk-scotland-goes-hamburg/)

 

NO G20, NO UK – SCOTLAND GOES TO HAMBURG

 

The Scottish Socialist Party is proudly supporting and participating in the massive mobilisation against the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany this weekend.

Thousands of people from outwith Germany – a handful of SSP members among them – have responded to the call of Hamburg-based organisers for a bold, broad and borderless display of resistance to the latest international demagogues convention.

SUMMIT OF REPRESSION

When the likes of May, Trump, Putin and Erdoğan meet in Hamburg, they will be a stone’s throw from the city’s traditionally autonomist and progressive Sternschanze and St Pauli districts, where locals view the imposition of the summit as provocative, undemocratic and violent. Continue reading “NO G20, NO UK – SCOTLAND GOES TO HAMBURG”

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Jul 07 2017

TWO REVOLUTIONS?

Steve Freeman reports on the politics displayed at the Left Unity Party’s conference held on June 24th in London. This was first published as a letter in Weekly Worker (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1162/letters/)

 

TWO REVOLUTIONS?

Jeremy quite happy with the Crown

On June 24, Left Unity members met in conference to consider the way ahead in the next period. Members are aware of the powerful forces pulling the party to the right. But conference revealed a struggle over whether the party should respond by moving to the right or shifting to the left. The general election sharpened up the issues. Should Left Unity carry on as before, or join the ‘Corbyn revolution’, or become the party of ‘democratic revolution’?

A resolution from Birmingham says: “The ‘Corbyn revolution’ has for the foreseeable future closed the electoral space to the left of Labour.” It has “unleashed expectations which can’t be met within the confines of the existing structures of the Labour Party”. This will spill onto the streets, in campaigns and communities. Like a whirlpool, this ‘revolution’ is pulling LU down the plug. Continue reading “TWO REVOLUTIONS?”

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Jul 07 2017

ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th

Allan Armstrong was delegated at the RISE National Forum held in Edinburgh on 8th April to be its representative at the LUP conference on May 20th. Due to the General Election this was postponed to June 24th. Attached is the full version of the talk he prepared for the conference held in London. In the event, because of time constraints, the oral version was slightly abridged.

This was first posted on the LUP blog:- http://leftunity.org/rise-speaker-addresses-lu-conference/

ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th

I would like to thank the LUP for providing me with the time to address your conference as a visiting representative from RISE.

Many of you here today are old enough to remember the heyday of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), which had a considerable impact throughout the UK. The SSP united the overwhelming majority of socialists in Scotland and at its height had 6 MSPs. It inspired the Socialist Alliance (SA) in England and Wales. Although the SP and the SWP managed to sabotage the SA the SSP’s downfall was an almost entirely Scottish affair. This can be largely laid at the feet of a certain Tommy Sheridan.

After 2004, socialists in Scotland were very divided. IndyRef1, though, provided an opportunity for socialists to regain political influence. Young socialists, largely unaffected by ‘Tommygate’, initiated the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in 2012. This coalition, or united front, brought together, not only many of the previously divided socialists, but the Left in the SNP and the Greens and a majority not involved in any party. Continue reading “ADDRESS TO THE LEFT UNITY CONFERENCE ON JUNE 24th”

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Jun 08 2017

LEFT UNITY AND THE GENERAL ELECTION  

We are posting this position paper from Steve Freeman (Republican Socialist Alliance and Campaign for a European Socialist Republican Party) first posted on the Left Unity blog. 

SCOTLAND AND THE TORY BREXIT ELECTION

The general election is an opportunity for the working class in Scotland to build a stronger and more militant opposition to Tory Brexit and all anti-working class austerity policies whether from Tory or SNP governments. It is an opportunity to organise a stronger democratic movement against the Union, including preparing for a referendum on self determination, seeking closer unity with the anti-Unionist workers in England and more broadly with the European working class.

Left Unity will not stand candidates in the 2017 general election in Scotland. We will support any RISE or Scottish Socialist Party candidates whose policies are close to our own. Left Unity is clear in its commitment to socialism and will use the election to advance the following policies aimed to strengthen the working class internationally – opposition to austerity, imperialist wars, Trident, NATO, TTIP; anti-Unionism and support for the right to self determination, republican democracy, migrant rights and Pan European socialist organisation. Continue reading “LEFT UNITY AND THE GENERAL ELECTION  “

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May 25 2017

RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION

The Radical Independence Campaign- Edinburgh has produced the following statement in response to forthcoming Westminster General Election.

 

 

Theresa May’s forthcoming general election is not a normal election. It is being called in defiance of the Tories’ own 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act. It bears a strong resemblance to a presidential-style plebiscite. But in the absence of actual presidential powers, such as those now wielded by Trump in the USA, May still wants to be able to override Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont altogether. Continue reading “RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION”

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May 13 2017

MASS STRIKES AND OCCUPATIONS BY UKRAINIAN MINERS

These three articles were first posted on the Ukraine Solidarity Committee website at:-

https://ukrainesolidaritycampaign.org/

1.URGENT APPEAL FOR SOLIDARITY

Miners’ Rally in solidarity with the occupation at Kriyvyi Rih

Ukrainian miners are engaged mass action in the city of Kryvyi Rih with strikes, occupations and a hunger strike of 400 miners underground in the “Yubileynaya” (Jubilee) mine of EVRAZ Sukha Balka JSC in Kryvyi Rih. Continue reading “MASS STRIKES AND OCCUPATIONS BY UKRAINIAN MINERS”

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Apr 07 2017

THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND

Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance and the Left Unity Party draws on the revolutionary democratic political tradition in England, linking the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes. He outlines its strengths compared with the social democratic and economist political tradition of Labour and most of the British Left sects. Steve argues that Socialists should be championing the revolutionary democratic tradition today.

THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND

“Westminster? It’s old, defunct, a waste of time. I hate the place” – Mhairi Black MP *

Westminster does not look or work any better from the inside or the outside. In May 1991 Tony Benn MP proposed fundamental reform. He introduced the Commonwealth of Britain Bill in the House of Commons, intended to make Britain a federal republic. The current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP seconded the Bill. The Bill’s first hurdle on the parliamentary road to a republic was to get permission from the Queen to submit it to the Commons. Then there has to be majorities in the Commons, Lords and then finally with the royal assent the Bill becomes law.
Continue reading “THE COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND”

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Apr 06 2017

EDINBURGH PEOPLE’S FESTIVAL TO COMMEMORATE ITALIAN PHILSOPHER AND ANTI-FASCIST, ANTONIO GRAMSCI

 

The Edinburgh People’s Festival has secured funding for a major conference commemorating the life and work of the influential Italian philosopher and anti-fascist Antonio Gramsci.
Continue reading “EDINBURGH PEOPLE’S FESTIVAL TO COMMEMORATE ITALIAN PHILSOPHER AND ANTI-FASCIST, ANTONIO GRAMSCI”

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Mar 29 2017

BEING ANTI-TRUMP ISN’T ENOUGH

David Broder, now a member of the editorial board of Historical Materialism, contibruted the Global Commune* events  organised in Edinburgh by the RCN in 2010.  David now lives in Italy and has written the following article about how socialists should relate to Trump, after the dismal experience of the Left’s response  in Italy to the rise and fall of Silvio Berlusconi. We would like to thank David and Bhaskar Sunkhara, editor of  the US magazine, Jacobin, for permission to  post this article, which is can also be found in the current issue 24 of Jacobin.

 

Berlusconi and Trump drink to a Left-free future

BEING ANTI-TRUMP ISN’T ENOUGH

Just months after the left seemed poised for a historic breakthrough, a shock national vote brought a dangerous reactionary to power. Smashing open the old party of the Right, the billionaire tycoon’s populism surfed a wave of anger against the corrupt elite that had long controlled the political center. Making government the stage for a permanent public performance, this curiously wealthy popular champion radically reshaped the country’s political life.
Continue reading “BEING ANTI-TRUMP ISN’T ENOUGH”

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