Union chiefs Len McCluskey and Matt Wrack and left-wing author Owen Jones will top the bill at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.
The general secretaries of Unite and the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) will be joined by the firebrand Guardian columnist on the Durham Racecourse speakers’ stage at Europe’s biggest trade union event on Sunday, July 11.
Durham Miners’ Association secretary Dave Hopper will also introduce Steve Murphy from UCATT, John McDonald from ASLEF and Chris Keates from the NASUWT.
However, Ed Miliband will be absent – organisers having decided not to invite the Labour leader.
Mr Miliband, who claimed the Labour leadership ahead of his brother David with strong union backing, became the first party boss to address the Gala since Neil Kinnock when he travelled to Durham in 2012, but has not returned since.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the 131st Gala, as dozens of brass and bagpipe bands march union and colliery banners through Durham City’s historic streets past dignitaries watching from the first floor balcony of the Royal County Hotel and to the Racecourse where, in addition to the political speeches which start at about 1pm, there will be family entertainment, campaign stalls and more.
Mr Hopper said he was very pleased with the speakers line-up.
The outcome of this week’s General Election is bound to be the central theme of the speeches; and Mr Hopper said he could not see Labour winning.
“The Scottish girl (Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon) has run rings around them.
“Miliband hasn’t come across very well. She’s putting him on the spot every time,” he said.
Last year’s Gala had a mournful feel, as guests paid tribute to the late Labour grandee Tony Benn and union leader Bob Crow.
On Gala day, the centre of Durham will be closed to traffic from 7am. Visitors are encouraged to use park and ride buses.
There is an ongoing appeal to support the continuation of the Gala. Supporters are invited to become a Friend of the event, for a minimum fee of £2 a month. For more information, visit friendsofdurhamminersgala.org
> Interesting developments ? Are the decision not to invite Miliband, and Dave Hopper’s comments about Labour’s chances the beginnings of a move away from the Labour Party ?
Source – Durham Times, 04 May 2015
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
Former miners from the region will march on Parliament today (Tuesday, October 28) to demand more support for coalfield communities.
The protest comes as MPs debate the release of 1984 Cabinet papers which allegedly showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of pit closures and tried to influence tactics used by police dealing with picketers.
Members from organisations including the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of Mineworkers– Yorkshire Area will travel to London to take part in a rally outside the House of Commons.
Dave Hopper, DMA secretary, said the impact of the pit closures was still being felt 30 years later.
“It is now only right that Parliament recognises just how badly ministers at the time treated the coalfield communities and acknowledges the full scale of the economic legacy of the pit closure programme,” he said.
“The problems in the former coalfields are horrendous and made worse by the current Coalition Government’s policies.”
Parliament will debate a motion put forward by Labour which calls on the Commons to acknowledge the evidence that the Thatcher Government “misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics”.
Miners also want a full investigation into the so-called Battle of Orgreave, which saw brutal picket line clashes between police and union members, including many from the North-East.
“What happened at Orgreave 30 years ago was a black day in South Yorkshire,” said Mr Hopper.
“The Independent Police Complaints Commission needs to get its act together. If they can’t or won’t undertake a proper investigation, then Labour has said the Government should consider initiating a swift, independent review along the lines of the Ellison Review.”
Cabinet papers from 1984, released earlier this year under the 30-year rule, revealed Government plans to shut 75 mines over three years. The government and National Coal Board said at the time they wanted to close just 20.
Source – Durham Times, 28 Oct 2014
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
Thousands of people flocked to Durham City for the 130th Durham Miners’ Gala.
Warm sunshine helped swell the crowds later in the morning.
About 65 banners from across the North East and elsewhere were joined by 50 bands for the procession to the Racecourse.
Banner numbers were swelled by mini-banners from several primary schools, including West Rainton, and banners from other unions.
Gala Day starts early for many with breakfast meetings in clubs and community centres in the outlying former pit villages.
There was an early start in Houghton for Pat Simmons and the members of the Lambton and Houghton Banner Group.
Their band for the day, from Elland in Yorkshire, was treated to breakfast at the Peppercorn Cafe in Houghton before accompanying the Houghton banner on the first of two processions.
“We processed the banner to the war memorial in Houghton before taking it to Durham,” said Pat.
“The band played the miners’ hymn Gresford to remember those miners who fought in the First World War.
“Houghton didn’t have a banner for a long time after the old one was lost in a fire in the 1960s.
“This will have been the first time for many years the banner has been taken through Houghton first before going to Durham.”
The Gala attracts not just former pitmen, but also people too young to have worked in the coal industry.
“I am only 22 so never worked down a pit,” said Robert Kitching, who was helping to carry the Silksworth banner.
“I’m interested in mining and heritage, and this is my fourth year with banner.
“If the Gala is to survive, we have to attract younger people.
“But it is difficult to get them involved.”
Richard Breward, 67, was parading the Easington Lodge banner.
“I left school at 15 and worked at Easington for 27 years,” he said. “I did more or less everything there in that time, and I finished when the pit finished in 1992.
“I’m at the Gala every year, and I want to see it continue.”
Guest speakers this year included the ever-popular left wing MP Dennis Skinner, and the general secretaries of four unions.
Further entertainment for the crowds was provided by music, stalls, and a funfair on the Racecourse.
Those for whom the temperature proved too high could cool down with free bottles of water provided by Northumbrian Water.
The good weather was matched by the general good nature of the crowd.
Police reported few arrests by mid-afternoon, although one man was ‘in the cells, drying out’ after jumping into the River Wear.
By lunchtime many people were already heading home, or heading back into Durham for the afternoon Gala Service in the cathedral.
Dave Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, is determined there will be another Gala next year, and in the years to come.
“The cost is increasing each year,” he said. “For example, £26,400 is spent on subsidising the brass bands which are an essential feature of the day.
“The association no longer has subscriptions to its funds from working miners, and it is obvious we cannot fund the Gala indefinitely.
“But I am confident there are sufficient friends in County Durham and elsewhere who want it to continue.”
Anyone wanting contribute to the cost of future Galas can do so online: www.durhamminers.org
Source – Sunderland Echo, 13 July2014
Labour Party leaders and union chiefs who did not support the miners’ strike in the 1980s helped weaken the movement, a miners’ leader says.
Thousands of people will flock to Durham City on Saturday (July 12) for the 130th Durham Miners’ Gala, which marks 30 years since the start of the bitter dispute.
In his programme notes, Dave Hopper, general secretary of Gala organisers the Durham Miners’Association, says declassified documents reveal that the Thatcher Government was determined “to butcher the coalfields and smash the National Union of Mineworkers.”
He praises politicians and unions who supported the strike.
But he continues:“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade unions and Labour Party leaders who did not support our strike.
“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but for weakening the whole trade union movement.
“They will be remembered in the former coalfield of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.
“The refusal of New Labour, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.”
Five new banners will be on display at the Gala – Fenhall Drift Mine, Lanchester; St Hilda Colliery, South Shields; New Brancepeth Colliery, County Durham; a UNITE Community Membership Banner and West Rainton Primary School’s Adventure Pit banner.
The parade through the city to the racecourse will start at about 8.30am.
There will be a funfair, various stalls and entertainment, including folk singer Benny Graham, on the field throughout the day.
Speeches will be made between 12.15pm and 2.30pm.
The speakers are Bolsover Labour MP Dennis Skinner, Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan, NUT general secretary Christine Blower, and Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF.
Mr Hopper says Labour leader Ed Miliband was “sounded out” about attending the Gala, but nothing had been heard from him.
The blessing of banners service in Durham Cathedral starts at 3pm.
Delegations from Germany, Ukraine and Ireland are expected to attend.
Details, including events marking the strike anniversary, are at http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Durham Times, 10 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
A gathering to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike was held in the North-East over the weekend.
Durham Miners’ Association staged the event at its headquarters at Redhills in Durham City on Saturday, three decades on from the bitter industrial dispute.
It was held at the weekend to tie in with the 30th anniversary of the infamous clashes between pitmen and police at Orgreave, near Rotherham, on June 18, 1984.
The union invited friends, supporters and miners who took part in the strike to ‘to renew old friendships and celebrate the spirit that endured a year-long battle for the preservation of jobs and communities’.
The eight-hour celebration started at 2pm and included a bar, buffet, films and music as well as speeches.
General secretary Dave Hopper said: “A lot of people who have not see each other for quite a while were there.
“It was nice to get together, reminisce a bit and look back at the situation and just think how unlucky we were not to achieve what we set out to achieve.
“Society would have been far better, certainly in the Durham area and a lot of coalfield communities. It is always important to keep issues like this in the public eye.”
Source – Durham Times, 23 June 2014
Statue to honour village’s miners
Work has begun on a memorial statue to honour men and boys killed in the pits.
A turf-cutting ceremony took place on Friday (June 20) ahead of the creation of a life-size statue of a miner, his wife and child for Esh Winning, in County Durham.
The statue will honour people who died in the collieries of Esh Winning, Waterhouses, Hedley Hill and East Hedleyhope.
Work on the memorial is expected to take three months, followed by an unveiling ceremony.
A long-running community campaign raised £65,000 to pay for the statue.
That included donations from the County Durham Community Foundation, Esh Winning Community Association, Hargreaves, Durham Rural Community Council, the Co-operative Society and others.
Councillor John Robinson, chairman of Durham County Council, was part of Friday’s event.
He said: “This will be a wonderful memorial to the local community and the families of those who worked in the mines.”
Hargreaves, a mining firm which is based in Esh Winning, is the main commercial supporter of the project.
Development director Ian Parkin said the company was honoured to be involved.
Bob Heslop, a devoted leader of the memorial group, sadly died last year, before the campaign reached fruition.
Source – Northern Echo, 22 June 2014
A reunion aims to bring together former picketing pitmen as they remember the strike 30 years on.
Durham Miners’ Association is inviting its friends and supporters, particularly those who took part in the industrial action, to gather at its headquarters in Red Hill, Durham, to “renew old friendships and celebrate the spirit that endured a year long battle”.
The gathering will be held on Saturday.
Three decades on, the hostilities generated between the miners and the authorities remain an issue.
Its general secretary Dave Hopper said: “The recent release of the Thatcher Government’s Cabinet papers has exposed the falsehoods and deceit used to defeat the miners’ strike of 1984/85.
“Now everyone knows that Thatcher deliberately lied about the full extent of her pit closure programme and was so determined to butcher the coal industry and smash the National Union of Mineworkers that she was even preparing to use the army to break the strike.
“None of this, of course, will shock our mining communities, which fought so bravely to resist the Tory onslaught.
“We thank those unions and members of the labour movement and all who gave us unstinting and invaluable help.
“At the same time, these revelations should shame those trade union and Labour Party leaders who did not support our cause.
“Those who refused to come to our aid bear a huge responsibility, not just for our defeat, but also for weakening the whole trade union movement.
“They will be remembered in the former coalfields of Britain just as we remember those so-called leaders who betrayed the 1926 General Strike.
“The refusal of ‘New Labour’, during 13 years of government, to repeal the anti-trade union legislation, which was used to defeat us, only compounds their shame.
“Now we have to fight, with a weakened trade union movement, against draconian Tory-Liberal austerity measures which are impoverishing working people while the rich, who caused the economic crisis, have doubled their wealth since 2008.
“We need the fighting spirit which sustained us through that year-long strike more than ever because the fight for our communities which started in 1984 is still ongoing.
“I hope everyone will come on Saturday 21st and have a great time.”
The event will include refreshments and folk music performances, with a marquee to be set up in the grounds of the association’s base.
For more details visit http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Sunderland Echo, 19 June 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