Mary joined the Durham Miners’ Association in Wharton Park to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the first Miners’ Gala.
Wharton Park was home to the first Gala in 1871 where thousands of miners came together to demand a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Mary was joined on the platform at Wharton Park’s Amphitheatre by Chairman of the Durham Miners’ Association Stephen Guy, General Secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Alan Mardghum, former Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, local poet Rowan McCabe, children from the local area, the Dean of Durham Cathedral Andrew Tremlett, and Pat Simmons, Chair of the Banner Groups Association.
The event was also attended by members of the City of Durham Constituency Labour Party.
The full text of Mary’s speech can be found here:
I want to thank you for inviting me to speak at this “mini Gala”. While it’s not the way any of us imagined to be celebrating the 150th year of the Durham Miners’ Gala, it’s still such an honour to speak at this event and I’m looking forward to next year, when we will once again see the brilliant bands and banners marching through the beautiful streets of Durham. For 150 years the Big Meeting has been part of Durham’s cultural calendar and I hope that it will be for another 150 years.
Yet, while we are here today to celebrate the past, I want to start by talking about something a little more recent. I think we all heard about the Prime Minister joking about Thatcher’s mine closures and her attacks on decent and honest people. And I wasn’t surprised that the Prime Minister thinks the heritage of our towns and villages is something to laugh at, but I was surprised to hear him say it so openly. Although, I’d like invite Johnson to knock on a few ex-miners’ doors in Durham to see how funny they think his joke is.
But the Prime Minister was right when he said that this joke “would get you going.”- but it’s not got me laughing it’s got me really fired up. Because when I heard a pampered Etonian laughing at working class hardship and mocking our history and our culture, it made me prouder than ever of our communities. I’ve lived in the North East my entire life and I know that trade unionism, solidarity, and socialism are part of who we are. It’s in our character, and it’s in our towns and villages.
In fact, after getting married, I moved to number 6 Marx Terrace in Chopwell, with Lenin Terrace and Keir Hardie Avenue making up the rest of “Little Moscow”. Socialism was embedded there, trade unionism ran deep, and there was barely a Tory in sight. Simpler times…
But while it’s nice to dwell on the nostalgia of the past, politicians are rarely given that luxury. So, I prefer to listen to the words of the Durham Miners, “the past we inherit, the future we build”. And it’s more important than ever that the Labour Party sets out a future that we can be proud of, one that inspires people, that protects workers, and that speaks up for communities like ours.
So, as we look to the past today, let’s be proud and nostalgic, but let’s also use it as inspiration for the future.
At the first ever Gala, there was a banner that read “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, while resolutions passed that defended workers and the rights of unions. And during the General Strike many years later, miners were inspired to action by the phrase “not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day”.
And when I looked into the history of Chopwell, I read about the support striking miners and their communities… the support that they received from local councillors. And this support wasn’t selective or conditional, it was proper, wholehearted solidarity. They were proactive and a shining example of what representatives today should be doing.
So, my takeaway from Durham’s mining and trade union past, is that my party needs to be one where our messages are simple, but our values are strong. We need to campaign against anti-worker tactics like fire and rehire as passionately as that first Gala day fought the Criminal Law Act 150 years ago today. Simply put, we need to be a party that’s unapologetically pro-union and progressive.
And the reason workers were so well represented at that Gala and many more after, is that those present were firmly embedded in the communities that they represent, and the Labour Party needs our representatives today to follow this example.
I’ve lived in council houses most of my life, I’ve been made redundant, I’ve been a carer to my disabled daughter, and I’ve worked in our communities. So I know how important this lived experience is. It helps you to understand what solidarity looks like, and to know the issues that affect local people.
So, while it’s been brilliant to come here today and celebrate this landmark anniversary of our history and culture, for me today’s event, and events like today are invaluable, because they remind us of where we’ve come from and very much where we need to go. Solidarity.