Durham Miners' Gala procession coming over Old Elvet Bridge, 2008. Photo Paul Simpson, paul-simpson.org
The ‘Big Meeting’ this weekend
This weekend sees the 128th Durham Miners Gala, or the ‘big meeting’ as it’s known. The popularity of the Gala has grown and grown in recent years, it is literally the biggest trade union gathering in Europe with over 100,000 trade unionists descending on the Cathedral and University City so closely associated with the heart of the labour movement in the north east. Anyone who attends Durham this weekend won’t fail to be inspired and motivate by the whole event – I am always enthused and feel a sense of rejuvenation following the Big Meeting.
Arguably this is a key moment for the whole labour movement. Trade Unions are facing an assault from the coalition government that hasn’t been experienced for a generation, while working people are so much under the cosh that they need unions more and more to stand up against squeezed incomes, diminishing employment rights and increasing vulnerability in the workplace.
For the first time in a generation too, the leader of the Labour Party is speaking at the Durham Miners Gala. This is far more symbolic that many have appreciated, in no small part due to the lack of participation of previous leaders. The Big Meeting is the largest and most public expression of the unity, determination and ambition of the labour movement – trade unions and the Labour Party.
Ed Miliband’s presence among and on the same platform as a range of union leaders, speaking to the largest labour movement audience in the UK is a real opportunity for the whole movement to drive on collectively against the impacts and ambitions of a vicious, anti-union, anti-working class government.
For the last two years things have got worse on just about all measures. At the macroeconomic lever the government is failing even by its own standards, we’re borrowing more, the economy is not growing, unemployment, especially in the north east is getting worse and there are no signs of recovery. Public services are disappearing and all workers are facing real terms pay cuts and diminishing standards at work, including attacks on pensions and other terms and conditions.
This joint platform of union and Labour Party leaders is an opportunity for the labour movement to be clear about our ambitions, about our aspirations, for fair wages, for decent quality of work and for meaningful and comprehensive, effective employment rights and to firmly unite in that common purpose for a better society.
The 128th Miners Gala may just be the platform for a real dynamism for the whole of the labour movement to grow in confidence and to take these challenges on boldly, collectively and as a united organisation.