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Volume 54 Number 16, June 29, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Movement

Jarrow's Rebel Town Festival 2024

Arthur Scargill, former National President of the NUM speaking at the Festival

On Saturday, June 22, several hundred people took part in the eighth annual Rebel Town Festival in Jarrow. The march led by the Felling Silver Band started with a speech and a song by the side of the William Jobling memorial on the Tyne, going next to the site of the closed shaft of the last Jarrow mine where the band played Gresford to the silent gathering and the historic miners' banners displayed around. This was dedicated to all miners who had lost their lives in Britain and throughout the world. The march then went on to a rally in the car park of the Crown & Anchor in Jarrow and followed by the music of the Shamrock Street Ceilidh band. The march and the stage at the Crown & Anchor was festooned with many Palestinian flags showing how close the cause of the Palestinian people is to the working people who took part.

Among those speaking at the rally, despite his recent ill health, was the organiser and inspirer of this event, ex-miner Davy Douglass, a local historian and secretary of the Follonsby Wardley Miners Lodge Banner Community Heritage Group. Davy's work has breathed new life into recording the heroic struggles of the mining communities, ensuring that the sacrifices and hardships endured by the people of Jarrow and elsewhere are never forgotten. He also spoke out against the whole present attack on the working class today and the pro-war stand and support for Israeli genocide supported by all the big cartel party leaders. Arthur Scargill, former National President of the NUM, also spoke at length about the fighting experiences of the 1984 miners strike which this year marks its 40th anniversary. He spoke in detail about the great struggles of the miners in that strike with his comrades like Davy Douglass and how they continually planned at all times to win the strike against a vicious enemy in Margaret Thatcher's government and continued betrayal by some of the trade union leaders. Most importantly all the speakers spoke about the continuation of the struggle of the working class today.

The restored Follonsby Wardley Miners Lodge banner

During the event, speakers and those attending reminded themselves of the festival commemorations. Importantly, those events that took place in Jarrow in the 1830s with miners strikes against the slavery bonds [1] of the mine owners. In 1831, the union, led by Tommy Hepburn, conducted its first successful strike, winning a reduction in the working hours from 18 hours to 12 hours a day - for children under the age of 12! The event specifically marks the injustice against seven leading Jarrow miners in their 1832 strike against the bond. Thomas Armstrong, John Barker, Isaac Ecclestone, David Johnson, John Smith, Bartholomew Stephenson, and John Stewart were found guilty and convicted of "conspiracy" for joining a union and sentenced to death. However, instead of meeting the gallows, they were unjustly banished to the faraway penal colony of Botany Bay, never to return.

Part of the parade of the fifth Jarrow Rebel Town Festival in August 2021

An eighth Jarrow miner, William Jobling, was arrested in 1832 in connection with the killing of Nicholas Fairless, a magistrate who received a blow from which he later died. However, before he died, Fairless admitted that it was Jobling's friend Armstrong who struck the blow. While Armstrong escaped never to be seen again, William Jobling was arrested and tried and was ultimately hanged on August 3, 1832, in Durham. His lifeless body was covered in pitch and placed inside a metal cage, which was then transported to Jarrow Slake, where it was suspended on a towering seventeen-foot-high gibbet placed in close proximity to his family's residence in Jarrow. In the night his comrades cut down his body and brought it to the Public House overlooking the Tyne where now a memorial stands to him erected by the people of Jarrow. From there his body was secretly buried.

Today, the Rebel Town Festival held in Jarrow stands as a testament to the enduring memory of the Seven Men and William Jobling. It serves as a poignant reminder of the injustices they endured and the profound struggles faced by the working class in their pursuit of better conditions and for the new in society. Their stories continue to shed light on the resilience of ordinary people against the most oppressive forces and the transformative power of collective action. Most importantly this year's Jarrow's Rebel Town Festival, which took place in the middle of the General Election, re-enforced that the workers need to have their own programme independent of the cartel parties and their political factions. This can only be achieved by the workers working out solutions which favour them and not relying on any other force.

[1] The Coal Miner's Bond
Until 1872 all of the miners of Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham were employed under the hated bond system whereby they contracted their lives away each year (or each month from 1844 to 1864) to a "Master" in return for a "bounty" and little else of substance. By the terms of the bond, under pain of a substantial penalty, they were obliged to submit to various fines and conditions and to work continuously at one colliery for a whole year. The system was a kind of legalised temporary serfdom. The colliery owner on his part gave no undertaking to furnish continuous employment or indeed any employment at all. After 1809, the annual bond was usually entered into on/about April 5 when a colliery official read out the rate of pay and the conditions available at the pit to the assembled workers and would-be workers. Those who signed up were given a "bounty" of 2s. 6d. (12.5 pence) to start work. The first few to sign up were given extra money which was usually enough incentive to cause a stampede among the poverty-stricken workforce to "make their mark".

If anyone broke the bond he was liable to arrest, trial and imprisonment. If he struck in an attempt to improve conditions, the law was largely against him. If he stood on a picket line, and even looked at a blackleg, it could be construed as attempted coercion. If he attempted to unionise he was intimidated or dismissed and put on a county-wide black list. If he still gave trouble to the authorities he was liable for transportation to the colonies. For the truly unreformable there was always the ultimate sanction in an age when over 200 crimes theoretically carried the death penalty

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