I'm Chris, a Unison rep of 3 years with Middlesbrough Local Government branch.  3 years also happens to be the length of time I've been attending the Durham Miners Gala.

I'm embarrassed to say that, despite being from County Durham, I had never attended a Big Meeting until 2016. I had obviously heard of it, but never knew what it was about or if it was of any relevance to me or not.

If you've never been to the Durham Miners Gala before it's a tremendous day out and a great celebration of working class culture and solidarity.

July 14th 2018 marked the 134th Miners Gala and it was my first time to have the honour of walking into the Racecourse Field with the banners. I was invited, as a Labour Party member of the City of Durham constituency, to march in with Durham City Labour who this year were marching alongside the Sherburn Villages Collieries. It took two hours to make the half hour walk through the city, but it was a great opportunity to meet people. I held aloft the banner with the Labour Links Officer for Darlington Unison and it was great to be clapped along by people soaking up the sunshine.

The event is very well organised and the day flies over. After working up a hunger and arriving in the field I got some smashing food from the Labour Tea Tent, all handmade by people working together and volunteering their time and energy.

I was waiting on friends arriving, so I had a look around the outskirts of the field at all the different stalls. Former Newcastle United and England centre-half Steve Howey was signing autographs in the UNISON tent, lending a hand to Show Racism the Red Card, too.

 

Steve Howey signing autographs
Steve Howey signing autographs

  

I lay in the baking sun around noon, listening to the old folk performers on the stage sing local ballads of North Eastern life, often tales of hardship, but always of humanity, too. This year the stage was covered with a roof for the first time and the sound system was improved for the growing crowds, so it was easier to enjoy the music as the banners continued to file into the field.

In years gone by, when people told me of the event, I could only get an inkling of its appeal, but you really have to experience it first hand to pick up on the unspoken sense of what has been passed on for over a hundred years and what everyone attending is a part of; people looking out for one another and taking pride in their labour, who they are and where they come from.

Some excellent speeches followed. Matt Wrack of the FBU for the second year running, speaking up for our public servants and protectors in the Fire Service, doing a job that could end their lives as suddenly as many a miner lost theirs.

Dennis Skinner, who has spoken at the Gala many times, in his 88th year had the crowd laughing and cheering ahead of the closing speech by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. In his speech, Corbyn touched on many things, but one point that sticks in my mind is his aim to have the history of trade unionism taught in our schools. Too many times he has met young students who have asked him what is the role of trade unions.

Trade unionism is at the heart of that togetherness and solidarity which makes the Miners Gala such a celebratory occasion.

This year, after the speeches, we were treated to a rousing set by Billy Bragg as the sun continued to beat on the smiling hordes. There was time to buy a book from one of the stalls. I opted for a James Connelly book from the Workers Party of Ireland's stall. They had come over from Dublin and it was great to pass the time with people you wouldn't otherwise meet.

We left the field to make our way through the vibrant, smiling city that danced to the beat of the brass bands echoing around the streets many had trodden together year after year.

If you've been before you'll be looking forward to next July. If you've yet to experience it, add it to your calendar.

 

To find out more visit www.durhamminersgala.org

 

Chris Riley

Branch Labour Link Officer