Jul 08 2017


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.





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.


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/


also see:-





For other articles by Dave Douglass see:-

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




The debate continues: The Jacobites strike back


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Dec 03 2016


Allan Armstrong, of the Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party, draws some political conclusions from the online discussion (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/11/20/from-farages-brexit-to-trumps-brexit-plus-plus-plus-and-on-to-madame-frexit/)  of the political situation in the UK in the aftermath of the Trump vote. 




a) Brexit and the change in British ruling class thinking

Since the Brexit vote, the Tories, under Theresa May’s leadership, have been moving away from the recently shared politics of the majority of the British ruling class and mainstream British political parties. A central feature of these politics was based upon the globalised neo-liberal economics pushed by Margaret Thatcher, in the interests of a turbo-charged City of London. The City had really taken off after Nigel Lawson’s ‘Big Bang’ deregulation in 1983. Following New Labour’s 1996 election victory, they adopted the same unquestioning pro-City path. This was shown when Chancellor Gordon Brown abolished the few remaining government controls over the City’s operations. Under Tony Blair, Butskellism gave way to Blatcherism.
Continue reading “WHICH WAY NOW – ‘BREXIT’ OR ‘EX-BRIT’?”

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Jul 16 2016


We are posting two pieces from Ireland in the aftermath of the UK Brexit vote. The first is by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, a member of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) written soon after the result was announced. The second is a collective statement from Socialist Democracy (Ireland). 



The good news is that the British electorate has dealt a major blow to the liberal capitalist consensus that has guide the politics of western (and, from 1991, eastern) Europe since the Second World War. How bad the damage is uncertain, nonetheless Brexit has brought to the surface a crisis comparable to that which destroyed the Soviet Union. The citizens of the country with the second strongest economy in the European Union have voted to leave it. This is a serious vote of no confidence in the status quo.
Continue reading “BREXIT – VIEWS FROM IRELAND”

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May 05 2016


The inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster finally made its ruling on 26th April. It took 27 years, following a prolonged establishment and police cover up, to finally get the verdict that 96 Liverpool supporters were “unlawfully killed”.  We are posting the article below by Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of the RSA. It was first published in  Chartist, before the inquest reported, and highlights some of the deeper issues raised. 





On the 15 April 1989 ninety six men, women and children died at the FA Cup Semi-final at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. The truth about this tragedy was concealed by the Crown for twenty three years. Yet at the same time we have to pay tribute to the tenacious struggle of ordinary people campaigning against such a shocking injustice.

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Mar 02 2016



This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 






The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.


1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.

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Aug 02 2015


Eric Chester (RCN) provides an analysis of the situation in Greece, after the Syriza government climbdown in the face of the Troika.





Recent events in Greece mark a turning point in the ongoing crisis of global capitalism. The Greek people are confronted with the stark choice of accepting a crippling austerity project or rapidly advancing toward a new society. For socialists in Scotland and the UK, there are lessons that need to be learned, both in terms of the limitations of reformism and the illusion of a united Left.

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Apr 20 2015


The following extract is taken from an article by Robbie McVeigh, entitled Living the peace process in reverse: racist violence and British nationalism in Northern Ireland, in the current issue of Race & Class (Volume 56, April-June 2015, no. 4).

Virtually the whole of the Left has ignored the broader implications of the new pan-unionist alliance (UKIP, Tory Right and Ulster unionists and loyalists), which is challenging the current British ruling class ‘New Unionist’ ‘devolution-all-round’ and Peace Process settlement from the Right. Robbie McVeigh, however, makes specific reference to the new political situation created in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. In doing this he is connecting to the arguments made on this blog that have highlighted this. He specifically points to the history of British ruling class sponsorship of  such reactionary forces, pointing out, not only several historical precedents, but the current collusion between the security forces in Northern Ireland and racist and bigoted unionism and loyalism, including its paramiltary manifestations.

This extract is followed by links to other articles on this blog making similar connections.



Robbie McVeigh

Robbie McVeigh


“It is important to remember that loyalism is a core component of British nationalism. This is an assessment of loyalism as a historical political formation, both as part of the politics of the British in Ireland and also of Britishness itself. It is anti-democratic ,racist, authoritarian populism. Moreover, it isn’t simply something belonging to the most reactionary elements of the Protestant working class in Northern Ireland, it is a British phenomenon. In other words, it isn’t rooted in the most lumpen elements of loyalist paramilitarism – although these provide useful allies – but in the most developed forms of British nationalism. Its genealogy can be traced to Randolph Churchill, with his cynical strategy of ‘playing the Orange Card’, through Lord Claude Hamilton to Enoch Powell; from the Curragh Mutiny to the Ulster Workers’ Strike. When the British Establishment rejects the consequences of formal democracy, this is what it looks like: a toxic cocktail of racism, sectarianism, anti-Catholicism, unionism, jingoism, militarism and paramilitarism.

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Feb 24 2015


Allan Armstrong (RCN) updates his socialist republican analyses of constitutional developments in the UK and Ireland, in the led up to the May 2015 Westminster election.



1. British unionists and Scottish nationalists attempt to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’



There are several important features to the political landscape we can currently see in Scotland and the wider UK. One key feature is the shock that the ‘Yes’ campaign gave to the British ruling class and, in particular, to their representatives in the mainstream unionist parties.

The referendum campaign had conjured up a ‘democratic revolution’, beyond either the control of Westminster or Holyrood. Voter registration was 97% and voter participation was 85%. Scotland experienced a wave of public meetings, canvassing, street stalls and cultural events, along with a huge volume of electronic correspondence and face-to-face conversations throughout the campaigning period.


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Oct 08 2012


A response to the Red Paper Collective’s

Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view

The ‘Independent Scotland Debate’ was organised by the Edinburgh Peoples Festival on September 9th. 86 people attended this well-conducted event in the Out of the Blue Centre in Leith. The speaker supporting independence was Kevin Williamson of bella caledonia, who argued from a Left nationalist perspective. The speaker opposing independence was West Lothian Labour MSP, Neil Findlay. Neil is also a member of the Red Paper Collective [1] (RPC), which includes British Left unionists in the Scottish Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain [2]. Supporters of the RPC handed out their pamphlet, Power for Scotland’s People – A labour movement view [3], to elaborate on the points Neil made in the debate.

This website has already posted critiques of Left nationalist approaches to the SNP government’s 2014 referendum [4]. This posting is a critique of the British Left unionist approach outlined in the RPC’s pamphlet [5].


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Mar 20 2009

Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:52 pm

The SWP gained some notoriety on the Left when it came out against Opposition to all immigration controls in the pre-split Respect. Now, no longer bound by Galloway’s Left British Unionism, Socialist Worker published the following useful contribution to the debate.

Millions of working people across Britain are fearful and angry at the mounting economic crisis. Manufacturing industry is now shedding jobs at a rate of 30,000 a month.

This week 6,000 workers at drugs giant Glaxo Smith Kline will become the latest victims of the jobs massacre. In the car industry, Honda workers face a shut-down until June.

Now this fear and anger has exploded into unofficial strike action with thousands of workers in oil refineries and power plants walking out.

They are right to want to fight this recession. But the central slogan of the current wave of strike action, British jobs for British workers, targets the wrong people and points in a dangerous direction.

Any demand framed in terms of putting British workers first inevitably paints another set of workers – foreign workers – as the problem.

It pits British workers against Italian, Portuguese and Polish workers. It seeks gains for one group at the expense of the other.

But foreign workers are not to blame for mounting unemployment, rampant subcontracting or worsening pay and conditions on construction sites.

The blame for these things lies squarely with the bosses – of whatever nationality – aided and abetted by neoliberal politicians such as trade secretary Lord Mandelson, the high priest of the free market.

Bad track record

The slogan British jobs for British workers was used by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to New Labour’s conference. As many pointed out at the time, it has a bad track record.

It was used in the 1930s by Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts to justify attacks on Jewish workers in east London and elsewhere. It was used by the National Front in the 1970s to try and force black and Asian workers out of their jobs.

These attempts to play the race card to divide workers have always been cheered on by the right, by successive governments and by the bosses. But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.

The working class of this country is multiracial and most people are proud of that fact. It is made up of people descended from migrants who came here seeking work – whether from Ireland, India, the West Indies or eastern Europe.

In recent years trade union activists in supermarket warehouses, on the buses and, indeed, in the power industry have fought hard to unionise migrant workers and ensure that everyone is paid the same and works under the same conditions – regardless of nationality.

The chorus of British jobs for British workers pulls the rug from under the feet of those who’ve fought to create such unity.

And it can only encourage those elements who want to echo filthy tabloid attacks on migrant workers. It’s no surprise that the Daily Star and Daily Express – papers that never miss a chance to attack workers or migrants – initially welcomed the walkouts.

The real issue is not the nationality of workers, but the imposition of neoliberal regulations across the European Union (EU) that reduced workers’ rights and aided employers in every member state.

Britain’s New Labour government has championed every such piece of neoliberal legislation. Yet it has also insisted on exempting Britain from the few pieces of EU legislation that could have benefited workers – such as caps on the number of hours we work.

Lord Mandelson is now advising British workers to go and get jobs in Europe – echoing Tory minister Norman Tebbit’s advice from the 1980s that the unemployed should get on your bike.

Of course British construction workers should be free to work in Germany or Saudi Arabia, just as workers from abroad should be free to work here. But when Mandelson talks of a “free market” in labour, what he wants is a race to the bottom. He wants Latvian workers to be employed here on Latvian wage rates, subject to Latvian health and safety laws.

That is why tens of thousands of trade unionists across Europe have held sustained and militant protests against the EU’s neoliberal attacks on workplace rights.

Workers from Italy and Portugal want decent jobs and a decent future, just like workers here. They are our brothers and sisters.

We should join their fight to ensure that all workers across Europe get the highest pay rates, the best conditions and the strongest health and safety laws. Focusing on “foreign workers” also lets Gordon Brown and New Labour off the hook. For the past 12 years they have continued Margaret Thatcher’s work.

They told us it did not matter that manufacturing jobs were disappearing, because Britain was becoming a global financial centre instead. That was before the banks went bust, of course.

They have kept Thatcher’s anti trade union laws intact and continued to privatise our public services. New Labour gave bosses the key to 10 Downing Street, but treated trade unions with contempt. And far too many in the trade union leadership have gone meekly along with this treatment – or even, shamefully, encouraged the British jobs for British workers slogan.

Mounting anger

Anger over how working people have been treated has been mounting and is now threatening to explode. The current walkouts are a symptom of that. And they have shown that unofficial strike action is an effective way to fight.

But think how effective it would have been if trade unions had led such walkouts over job cuts, subcontracting and factory closures, rather than over foreign workers. Such militant action could force Brown to act quickly.

On Friday of last week 400 members of the Unite trade union in Ireland occupied the Waterford Crystal factory to stop its closure. In the same week 2.5 million French workers struck over jobs, wages and pensions, refusing to pay the cost of the bosses’ crisis.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of a global recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided by racism or nationalist sentiment.

We need a united fight that targets the real culprits – the bankers, the multinationals, the politicians. Let’s turn the anger on those truly responsible for this dreadful recession.

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