Labour figure Hilary Benn has told of fond childhood memories attending Durham Miners’ Gala, but admitted a Labour Government could not offer money for the under-threat event.
The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, whose much-admired father Tony Benn was a fierce defender of the miners during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, recalled the magic of the Big Meeting when he watched banners pass the County Hotel balcony.
But he said his party, which was founded by the union movement, could not offer cash to back the Big Meeting.
The event was founded by the Durham Miners’ Association and has a long and rich history as a celebration of the region’s heritage.
Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seized on the chance to criticise Labour and accused them of failing to “respect their roots”.
The Gala’s future is uncertain as the association is struggling to find fresh funds, organiser, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Dave Hopper told the crowd in 2014, though it will go ahead on Saturday July 11.
Hilary Benn, who followed his father into a career in Parliament and is campaigning to be re-elected in Leeds Central, said he shared Mr Hopper’s fears for the event.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was my dad taking me up to the Gala,” he said. “There must have been about 11 of us on the famous balcony of the County Hotel, including Harold Wilson.
“We watched the banners go past the hotel in the procession. I was struck by how it was a great day of trade union solidarity and it is a great Labour tradition.”
But it is a sure signal of just how tough times are that the Labour Party can’t offer any money towards the event.
He said: “The Labour and trade union movement have always been big supporters of the Gala, and we will do all we can to support it, but we can’t make specific spending commitments.”
The Miners’ Gala was first held in the city’s Wharton Park in 1871.
Numbers grew strongly during the miners’ strikes to attract huge crowds of as many as 300,000.
Though the North East mining industry is a shadow of its former self, the Big Meeting continues to pull thousands of visitors.
Lodge banners are marched through the city and hundreds gather at a field near banks of the River Wear in what is a proud celebration of the North East’s heritage.
Tony Benn was one of the great figures of the left that have spoken at the event.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told colleagues he will give a speech this year, sharing a stage with long-serving parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.
The association said it was left with a £2.2m legal bill after losing a six-year court battle on behalf of former miners who have osteoarthritis of the knee.
Critics, including Labour’s North Durham candidate Kevan Jones, however, say the association had £6m in its accounts when it was a union in 2007.
Mr Pickles said a Conservative Government would not offer any help but insisted the party’s plan to create jobs would see more people support the event.
Mr Benn said one of the things the unions, many of which will be represented at the Gala, will fight is the rise in zero-hours contracts which grew four-fold under the Coalition government.
Mr Pickles, however, said: “As it is predominantly Labour Party and trade union members involved you would expect them to respect their roots.
“What we can promise is more jobs and more prosperity and more pounds in people’s pockets.”
Source –Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Apr 2015
Zero hours contracts were picked apart by union leaders as part of a round of speeches at the most popular Durham Miners’ Gala since the 1960s.
The historic event, which is now in its 130th year, attracted thousands of people to its Big Meeting event on Saturday and was blessed with fine, sunny weather.
Long-time Labour MP Dennis Skinner warned corporations of using the controversial zero hours arrangements and took aim at Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, for employing people on that basis through his company Sports Direct.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers also spoke, as well as GMB general secretary Paul Kenny and Prison Officers’ Association general secretary Steve Gillan.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Durham as banners from former mining communities were carried past accompanied by the sound of more than 50 brass bands.
The Chopwell Lodge banner with its striking imagery of Karl Marx and former Russian leader Vladimir Lenin caught people’s attention as usual, while several new banners joined the procession this year.
Organisers from the Durham Miners’ Association said it was the most well attended year since the 1960s, despite ongoing financial worries for future galas.
The organisation faces legal bills of £2.2m following a failed six-year compensation battle for its members through the courts.
While £60,000 was found to run this year’s event through a fundraising drive, association chairman Dave Hopper has previously said there may be difficulties beyond 2015.
However he told the crowd: “Don’t worry. We will be back next year and probably the year after.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 14 July 2014
AN award-winning documentary on the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike will be shown following the Durham Miners’ Gala.
Still the Enemy Within, which was crowd-funded and produced by Bad Bonobo Films, will be screened on Sunday July 13 at Redhills, the home of the Durham Miners’ Association in Durham City, the day after the 130th Big Meeting.
At the Sheffield International Documentary Festival,it picked up the prestigious Audience Award in the Feature category
Journalist and author Paul Mason will host a question and answer session after the showing.
“We’re honoured to be invited to show our film in Durham, to the people who lived through the reality of the strike,” said director Owen Gower.
“It’s an opportunity to share the stories of some of the wonderful, courageous and inspiring characters who we have had the privilege of getting to know. I hope we can give something back to the people who have taught us so much.”
The screening will be held at 1pm. Tickets cost £5 and £7 and are available from Redhills or from:
Source – Durham Times, 04 July 2014
The 130th Durham Miners’Gala will be tinged with sadness following the deaths of two leading figures of the Labour movement.
The event, on Saturday, July 12, is set to draw thousands of people to the city centre to watch the parade of banners and brass bands.
Tony Benn and Bob Crow, who died within days of each other in March, were popular speakers who appeared several times at the Big Meeting.
Mr Benn, the former veteran Labour MP who renounced his hereditary peerage, spoke at 20 Galas and also attended when he was not one of the speakers.
Mr Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, delivered a call from the platform at last year’s Gala for unions to form a new political party to fight for their interests.
Labour leader Ed Milliband once declined a Gala invitation because he didn’t want to share the platform with a “militant’’union leader.
Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners Association, which organises the event, said: “We will be saying goodbye to those comrades.
“Gresford (the miners’ hymn that is always played at the Gala) this year will have a special significance because we have had a number of funerals of good comrades.”
The 82-year-old former miner, who is renowned for his wit and entertaining speaking style, last addressed the event in 2011.
The line-up is completed by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny and Gala first timers Mick Whelan, general secretary of the rail union ASLEF, Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, and Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
Mr Hopper added: “We have a delegation of miners coming from the Ukraine and we are hoping one of them will say a few words about the very troubled and dangerous situation in that country.”
For details of the Gala and events in the run-up to it visit http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Durham Times, 02 July 2014
The cost of a failed legal claim could place the long-term future of the Durham Miners’ Gala in doubt.
The Durham Miners Association, which organises the annual Big Meeting, says it may be unable able to afford future events after landing a £2m bill for costs.
The DMA spent six years fighting unsuccessfully for compensation for former miners who developed crippling osteoarthritis of the knee because of their work.
Although the pits are long gone, the Gala has regained much of its old popularity and is considered the country’s foremost trade union gathering.
The mix of colourful union lodge banners and brass bands from across the North marching through the city and political speeches still attracts thousands of spectators each summer.
DMA general secretary Dave Hopper said staging the Gala cost between £70,000 and £80,000, with around £28,000 spent on the bands.
The Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala, launched in 2012, had brought in £40,000 in its first year, but more was needed.
He said: “We believe that this is a people’s Gala and if we have thousands of people giving a little each year the Gala will be safe.
“Of course, we will be more than happy to receive bigger donations from trade union organisations but it was the people of Durham that saved the Gala and in the long run it will be the people of Durham, and our many well wishers who attend from all over Britain.”
But North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones, who has heavily criticised the DMA over payments it received from members over previous compensation claims, questioned the situation.
He said the last published accounts for the DMA, in 2007 when it officially deregistered as a union and became a claims handler, showed it had £6.4m.
“I find it remarkable that the DNA should be making these claims,’’ he said.
“They should explain what they have done with this £6.4m.including over £1m in offshore bank accounts, they had in 2007.”
To join the Friends of the Gala visit www.durhamminers.org or write to: Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala, PO Box 6, The Miners’ Hall, Durham DH1 4BB.
Source – Durham Times 28 April 2014