The Big Meeting
The 123rd Annual Durham Miners Gala or the 'Big Meeting' as it is called
took place on Saturday 14th July. Defying forecasts of the torrential
rain which had fell incessantly for weeks, 70,000 people were blessed
with glorious sunshine which reigned all day and into the evening. The
spender and magnificence of Durham takes some putting into words. Hundreds
of traditional Lodge banners from the cornerstones of industrial history
and a once massive coal industry parade each year. Thirty five brass bands,
now frequently staffed by youngsters alongside older musicians, march
with huge martial and pomp and circumstance.
This year as every year, miners from across the globe marched with us, previously Australians and Canadians, this year Hungarians, and Poles. German miners in their pit uniforms strode through the crowds.
Durham is now supported by most of the big unions, their contingents
growing year by year and from further and further a field. Union leaders
on the platform often reflect the extent to their union's involvement.
Tony Woodley, (of TGWU/Unite)
He and the other leaders dodged it, because they were scared of sequestration, scared of loosing the trappings of office and the privileged positions that go with it. Not for him Jack Taylor's (President of the Yorkshire Miners in 1984) resolve as the sequestrators moved in that "if we have to run the union out of a Porto cabin at the bottom of my garden then that is what we shall do".
Davie Hopper the militant secretary of the Durham miners, lambasted Blair "invited ten years running and ignored ten years running" ridiculing his appointment as a peace envoy and attacking his role in Government. It is little surprise no Labour Leader has been back here though, since Kinnock was booed off stage following his stabbing us in the back during the great strike. Prescott had got some right welly too from the crowds about Liverpool dockers, and anti union laws. Imagen the response Blair would have got and before the eyes of the media? Davie's demand nonetheless was realistic, this was the real arena of his constituency, these were the people who he was supposed to represent, and it was this crowd he should have had the guts to face.
Ian Lavery the current president of the NUM gave a no compromise defence of clean coal as a technology to meet global warming and climate change. A little tongue in cheek he 'blamed the cows not the miners' for most of the CO2 being expended. Actually if he had blamed meat eaters in the west and the big meat companies he wouldn't have been far off the mark, not just the CO2 but the forests they decimate and burn to make room for all those cows.
The SWP were meantime leafleting the crowd with Respect 'Make The Break From Labour' leaflets, I couldn't resist asking them when they were going to 'make the break from Islam'?
The gala fringe is a mass of leftist and campaigning stalls, do it yourself booksellers and historians, mining memorabilia, pit lamps, strike badges, photos. A few years back they were selling confiscated truncheons, police helmets and radios from the strike (I had considered hauling my riot shield along, but gave it to a deserving collector instead) they contrast to the big exhibition tents by the big unions, or the council history societies or the library.
The music stage was a treat of folk song and invited ethnic diversity as Indian dancers in traditional custom accompanied by an Indian version of a brass and drum band wowed the crowds. Kids delighted in face paint, and screams of terror came from the big fair ground rides adjacent to the field.
It was absolutely heartening to see the masses of young people there out enjoying themselves and Durham has again become a place where teenagers go to em 'engage', and tumble on the grassy banks by the river, or else partake in underage drinking as we ourselves did so many years ago.
After staging a provocation in 2004 with the riot police putting on a show of strength but then rapidly backing off as the pitmen and their communities rushed to meet the challenge, the cops have kept a lower than low profile. The only exception was their new tactic this year of moving in near the final hours of the gala to disperse groups of youngsters doing nothing more than being young and together. This caused a few short lived fights and some arrests. Last year an inter-village fight between teenage groups had erupted in the field near the end and taken the cops completely by surprise. This used to be an unwelcome feature of the gala up to 40 years ago and was commonplace. Obviously the cops decided they aren't going to let it become a tradition. Could be they give rise to another tradition for which we became famous in 84/85..fighting the cops.
Durham yes is about nostalgia, it's a historic pageant, it's a procession
of our history and culture as it was when we had 200,000 miners and when
we had I million miners.