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Year 2010 No. 33, July 12, 2010 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

126th Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting Confronts Situation Facing Working Class Movement

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126th Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting Confronts Situation Facing Working Class Movement

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126th Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting Confronts Situation Facing Working Class Movement

Around 50,000 people took part in the Durham Miners Gala on Saturday, July 10. Workers marched behind 70 trade union banners, 43 of them being miners’ lodges from the former mining communities of Durham. From 8.30 in the morning, the Gala proceeds wave upon wave down past the County Hotel where they pause and play to the speakers and crowds gathered there. The dignified, militant and sonorous sounds of the brass bands and some pipe bands leading the contingents echoed through the narrow streets and across the bridges of Durham all the way onto the racecourse. At 12.50 thousands gathered for the Big Meeting at the racecourse. This year thousands of workers and public service workers took part in the Gala and almost every one on the Gala field was standing in or around the field to hear the speakers.

The County

After and before the Big Meeting, thousands of workers were gathered in discussion around the field. All of the movements of the working class and people were present and had stalls along the river bank where people could engage in discussion. During the course of the day the Northern Region of RCPB(ML), with their centre at a stall on the riverside, engaged many people in discussion and distributed hundreds of the special issue of “North East Workers and Politics” with the lead article Build the Workers Opposition! Fight for a Pro-Social and an Anti-War Government! as well as present and back issues of Workers' Weekly, the Party's national newspaper.

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Teachers' Union passes the County

During the day, it became clear that the working class of the whole region and many other regions of the country had come to the Gala to discuss the serious situation confronting the working class movement. Some workers had taken up the question of independent worker politicians in local and national elections whilst other are concerned with how they can influence the election of the new Labour Party leader. Certainly the level of the discussion is on the workers’ own experience on the role of the Labour Party and New Labour and what they are facing now with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition. The question was how to learn from that experience and how the workers can keep the initiative in their own hands. The speakers at the Big Meeting gave their views on how this experience should be learned from as did the workers on the field. Whilst all were opposed to the new coalition government, the workers on the field expressed more serious concerns about the previous Labour government and the Labour Party in general, a view reflected to some extent in the speech of Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary of PCS, but not so in what Ken Livingstone said. He suggested that it would be the workers who would be taking the decision on the new leader of the Labour Party, which is not how these things happen. But what is clearly needed is that this discussion is not cut short but is further gone into in workplaces and communities. Workers need to draw conclusions from their own experience so that there is a new understanding of what needs to be done to take the working class movement forward and build the Workers’ Opposition in Britain. One of the most important lessons for the workers is that they must keep the initiative in their own hands and not hand it to any force other that the workers themselves, so that they can unite around their own independent programme.

Discussion at the Party centre
Party stall on the Riverside

During the course of the day, workers and their families were entertained by choirs and folk musicians and other entertainment, and the unions organised free river boat trips for their members. The working class and people continued their celebration of the 126th Durham Miners Gala in Durham late into the evening.

Below WDIE is posting some of the issues raised by some of the speakers at the Big Meeting.

Chris Baugh PCS Assistant GS Adla Khalaf
Chris Baugh and Adla Khalaf speaking at the Big Meeting

David Guy, President of the Durham NUM, introduced the guests on the platform.

Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS):

We are here to today not to celebrate the past, important though that is. We are here today to celebrate that working class solidarity is no longer some utopian dream but the most powerful antidote to the new consensus of government across Europe that demands the working class pay the price of an economic crisis not of our making.

We have been told for 30 years of a high-octane free market capitalism where you don't need a manufacturing and coal industry. Instead we get a financial sector built on wild speculation and an explosion of credit; public services sold out or run like a business; weak unions tangled up in what Tony Blair described as the most oppressive laws in Western Europe. We were told that all this was the route to economic prosperity. That lie has been exposed by the biggest financial crash in 80 years and the injection of hundreds of billions of pounds of what we find was our money to bail out the banks and the speculators. The public deficit this has caused has become the pretext for the Tory Liberal coalition to wage the biggest assault on the welfare state and the major social advances made by the labour movement in the post-war years on a scale even Margaret Thatcher didn't dare implement.

As PCS, we have faced five years of cuts and privatisation already unfortunately under New Labour. Under Mark Serwotka's leadership, we won important safeguards for our members. I would like to thank those MPs and those unions in support of PCS in challenging the previous government and this government's attempts to rip off our members’ legal and contractual rights to redundancy terms which were designed to make it easier to sack our members on the cheap. We now find that a law court rules that the changes are unlawful. And like some tin pot regime, the Tories are going to try and rush the changes through Parliament. PCS welcomes Labour's decision to vote against this manoeuvre to help our union defend our members and with pressure let’s inflict the first Parliamentary defeat of this flaky government.

In a region where one in three are employed in the public sector – that is 330,000 workers – £6 billion in wages is spent in the local economy, all at risk if the cuts are carried through. The PCS alongside our brothers and sisters in Unison, Unite, GMB and all the other public sector unions want the public sector alliance that we have successfully set up in the northern region replicated in every region and nation of the United Kingdom.

Together we can show these cuts are not necessary. It is not just Nobel Prize economists, advisers to the Bank of England, and even the White House who tell us that the cuts will choke off recovery and push us into deeper recession. They will add another million to the two and a half million on the dole and add more than one million 17-24 years olds to the dole, and as always it is the cuts that hit the poorest and most vulnerable reflected in Osborne's budget with his attack on tax credits, housing and incapacity benefits. While we are told to tighten our belts, according to the Financial Times the fortunes of the super-rich have soared by a staggering 30% in the last year alone. But if there is one thing that exposes the lie that these cuts are necessary, it is the fact that PCS working with an organisation called the tax justice network have found a staggering £125 billion a year is lost to the public purse as a result of uncollected tax, tax avoidance measures and tax evasion of the super-rich and big business. As former Labour Chancellor Dennis Healey once said, the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is no more than the thickness of a prison wall. Rather than close the tax loopholes and chase the rich who are avoiding their responsibility to society, the very department where PCS is organised responsible for collecting the tax is on the receiving end of arbitrary office closures and our members facing dismissal. You can't make it up! It shows that this is not what the government claim is a spending crisis. This is an income crisis.

These figures explode the myth that these cuts are necessary and that decent public services can't be afforded. But the government, of course, and the media would always have us believe that the cuts are inevitable. We have seen a stream of anti-union stories. The use of courts to threaten the democratic right of BA strikers and RMT to take industrial action in defence of their own members. But I suspect that this is no surprise to any of us.

The British trade union movement has been reading its own obituary since six agricultural labourers gathered under a tree at Tolpuddle. These attacks occur for the same reason they attack the NUM. Because organised labour, the British trade union movement, stands in the way of the government's plans. And whilst in recent years we may not have been as fast moving as some of our European brothers and sisters the British trade union movement just short of seven million has shown its magnificent resilience. It has enormous latent power.

This flaky government has no mandate for this cuts programme and the trade union movement can and will need to use that latent power if we are going to defend our members, defend our communities and defend our class. PCS will continue to play its part in building our own working class coalition in every community, with the unemployed, with students, with pensioners in every city and in every region and this should start with the TUC calling a mass demonstration in the autumn to coincide with the government's comprehensive spending review. This should help build confidence and build support for the sustained campaign and co-ordinated public sector strikes that are going to be needed if we are going to halt the Tory Liberal coalition in its tracks. But this is also the chance for us to support our alternative: for tax justice, for running nationalised banks in the public interest, bringing utilities back under public ownership, winning the young into the ranks of the trade union movement.

A TUC report found the single biggest reason why young people are not union members is because nobody has ever asked them in the first place. We need public investment in council housing. We need public investment in a Green industrial base to create over a million climate jobs in insulating homes and buildings, in a clean public transport system and exploiting the natural wind and wave resources of the UK. But in the process it can help us challenge the most insidious idea of the modern age promoted by the political elites, promoted by the City of London, promoted by the Murdoch press who would have us believe that we cannot make a difference. PCS is here today to stand together with those who reject the fatalism and defeatism that has afflicted the British trade union movement and popular protest for far too long. In the words of William Blake “to help us build a heaven out of hell’s despair”, to stand together with those prepared to fight for their class and to show in practice that another world really is possible. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

Adla Khalaf, who lives in the West Bank in Palestine and is a Civil Engineer completing a PhD at Durham University in Physical Geography. She was for nine years advisor to the negotiators on the supply of water in Palestine. She intends to return to Palestine to continue the struggle for a Palestinian state. In recent months, we have witnessed the loss of the lives of nine people who participated in the Gaza Flotilla to break the siege of Gaza by Israel. On the West Bank today, 40% of the land is now taken over by illegal settlements. Those settlements are continuing to be built on. In the not too distant future half of West Bank will be occupied by Israeli citizens:

Friends and comrades, I am honoured to be here today at this great and famous political meeting of the Durham miners to represent my people in Palestine. I have come here today to convey the pain and suffering of every Palestinian man and woman. Every one has had a child, brother, father or sister or mother murdered or awaiting the freedom of a loved one from an Israeli prison. But I also come to ask for your continued support for our struggle and to end the suffering of millions of Palestinians for more than four decades. For more than four decades, we have suffered under a brutal Israeli military occupation. We have been deprived of our right to self-determination and sovereignty over our land. We have been repeatedly subjected to displacement, house destruction and collective punishment. Our fundamental human rights are violated every day. Every day the Israelis trample on our human dignity. I have come to offer that the message to be delivered from our land to add your voice so that the demand for peace will be louder than any other voice. When the so-called peace process started in the 1990s, Palestinians had faith in peace and the support of the international community. But what has happened since then is that Israeli settlement expansion has increased dramatically and they steal more and more of our land. A separation wall has been built, hundreds of check points have been erected, our water resources have been stolen and Palestine has been divided into isolated camps destroying our commerce. The Palestinian spirit has not been destroyed but it has become mixed with frustration.

For 40 years, Gaza has been under siege. In Gaza, 1.5 million people are deprived of all their basic human rights and continue to live in miserable conditions under the Israeli blockade. This blockade must end. It is against all international law. Israel with American support is getting away with its unpunished crimes and all our appeals have been to no avail.

The international community often speaks fine words about Palestinian rights but the United Nations resolutions have not been implemented. Israel is not above international law and by all its actions Israel shows that it does not want peace. Palestinians want to build their peaceful future side by side with their neighbours including Israel. We have our own problems, most of them as a consequence of 60 years of occupation. We have to put our own house in order but for that to happen we need your support.

The US and the European Union will not put pressure on Israel to make the peace process work until public opinion in America and throughout Europe demands it. Public support for Palestinian human rights is increasing. The County Durham Palestinian solidarity campaign does marvellous work here in Durham. I hope you will visit its stall over there.

The British trade union movement is on our side. Palestinian people value this solidarity. It keeps our hopes alive, it strengthens our determination and we know we are not alone. Today, Europe is the biggest single donor to Palestine and the UK is among the leading financial contributors. However, we believe that Europe and the UK could play a more political and influential role in the peace process and counter-balance the blanket support Israel gets from America. For example, Europe is the main importer of Israeli goods and a boycott similar to that imposed on apartheid South Africa would have a great impact on Israeli policies. Even the threat of such a wipe-out could help to start a genuine peace process. I call on the conscience of all humanity and the international community to act urgently and uplift the siege in Gaza and bring an end to the injustice and occupation of Palestine. We are not leaving our territory. We are entitled to our homeland, freedom and independence. We have to act individually and collectively with the utmost urgency and responsibility with human rights and international law to achieve genuine peace and co-existence in the Middle East region.

Peace is a global demand and more urgently a regional demand in the Middle East and it is definitely a must for the Palestinians and the Israelis. Our conflict needs a political solution. Hope is still alive. The Palestinian people supported by the international community are capable of overcoming the destiny which the charges of the forces of occupation, extremism, aggression and war in our region want to force us into. The situation today is not perfect and it will never be. We need the help of global communities. Let us think of our role in exploring more plausible solutions and some day we will all achieve an enduring and lasting peace otherwise conferences will come and go, politicians will rise and fall and our hopes for peace will be no more than a hollow illusion.

Finally, on behalf of my people of Palestine I would like to convey our appreciation of the British public for your efforts and support of the Palestinian people. Many of you have helped us to fight for our basic human rights. You support us in the education and cultural field. You contribute to the building of our national institutions. For all that and for listening to me today, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said that he endorsed everything said so far and to bear in mind the message given from our sisters in Palestine about the plight of the people in Palestine. He said that sanctions against Israel would bring about peace and justice for the Palestinian people. Jeremy Corbyn said that for him, it was an incredible honour to be invited to the 126th Durham Miners Gala.

David Hopper, General Secretary of the North East Area NUM, moved a vote of thanks to the participants. He mentioned that £10 million a week is being wasted on the war in Afghanistan, with 300 soldiers killed and that for every one of those lives lost there are families and friends. What for? What are we doing in Afghanistan? On the Labour leadership, he said we now have a beauty contest. What we need is not a new leader but a new direction. He read out a letter from David Miliband apologising for not being at the Gala and vowing to support the miners and their communities (there had also been one earlier from Ed Miliband). But he said that the main contenders for the leadership of the Party appear little different from those that preceded them yet they now all want to be our friend yet again as they saw with Kinnock and with Blair yet they then never came near the Gala. He said the people in our communities, who have remained loyal to the Labour Party, deserve better. He said let the Gala become a rallying call to the working class to co-ordinate the defence of our class against the unjust politics perpetrated by this unholy alliance of Tories and Liberal Democrats.

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