On 9 July, 50,000 or more people poured into Durham city for the 127th Miners’ Gala. More than eighty delegations from pit villages marched in: typically, a brass band and a pit banner followed by a crowd of revellers carrying children, cheering and waving posters protesting against the cuts. Each band, in keeping with tradition, stopped at the County Hotel to play to the party of labour movement speakers watching from the balcony. That took five hours.
Although the Gala crowd is not as big as the quarter million or so who used to gather in the early 20th century, it has grown over the last decade. And yet it is 16 years since the closure of Wearmouth, Durham’s last coal mine, and 26 years since the great strike of 1984-85 that pitted these communities against the government and police. Then, county Durham had 19,000 miners; now there are none.
What is going on? This wasn’t a syndicalist old codgers’ reunion. Young men and women – many of whom could scarcely have been in primary school during the great strike – were out, drinking from cans of lager, many dressed in their best, and all proudly cheering the bands and banners. Read the rest of this entry »