With banners held high

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the defeat of the great miners’ strike. The weekend marked the 131st Durham Miners’ Gala attended by over 150,000 people. The night before the main event on Saturday 11 July, saw a meeting held at the Miners’ HQ in Red Hill, Durham to discuss the latest developments in the campaign to get justice for the Orgreave miners and supporters, organised by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

The meeting was opened by Granville Williams from the Campaign, who reminded us that only the day before Thoresby colliery in Nottingham had shut down with the loss of more than 300 jobs. This came less than two weeks after the shock closure of Hatfield colliery in South Yorkshire at the end of last month, leaving just one deep coal mine still working in Britain, in Kellingey in West Yorkshire. Taken together the three mines will leave underground millions of tones of high quality coal which could have been burned through the Carbon Capture and Storage system (CGS). Instead  coal will be imported from abroad and processed through the CGS. Granville announced that a campaign has been launched by activists at Hatfield to preserve the colliery’s pit-head equipment as a fitting memorial to the industry and those who worked in it.

Barbara Jackson, OTJ campaign secretary updated the meeting on developments since the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC ) had announced a few weeks ago that after two and a half years ‘scoping exercise’ they had decided that given the length of time that had elapsed since the event (1984), no independent inquiry would take place into the conduct of the South Yorkshire Police both on the day of the mass picket and during the subsequent court cases against 95 miners. These cases collapsed which resulted in the police paying £425,000 to 39 miners in compensation. The decision was unacceptable especially in the light of the decision to hold new inquests into the deaths of 96 people at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough which took place four years after the events of Orgreave. Barbara told the meeting that they were due to meet Home Secretary Theresa May to put the case for a public inquiry. For more information about the OTJC and the background go to: http://otjc.org.uk/

Next day the Big Meeting witnessed its biggest turn out for years. The mood of the participants was positive, the mood of the platform speakers of defiance in the wake of the election of the Tory government in May. Trade union leaders Matt Wrack (FBU) Tosh McDonald (ASLEF president and at first glance a Richard Branson look-a like, who “hated Margaret Thatcher with a passion”) Chris Keates general secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT and UNITE leader Len McCluskey were united in their opposition to the government’s determination to destroy the welfare state as we know it reinforced by their recent budget with £12 billion in cuts and they called for united resistance.

The campaign for a new Labour leader and deputy took central stage at the rally. The organisers had invited Jeremy Corbyn to the meeting and deputy candidate Tom Watson (who spoke at the 2012 gala). In a well received speech Jeremy thanked the organisers for inviting him to speak saying that it was “one of the greatest honour of my life.” He called for a society of full employment, decency, and human rights, that abolished poverty. “It can be done” he said. His eight minute speech went down well and his campaign stall did a roaring trade in tee-shirts, leaflets and stickers.

Also speaking in support of Jeremy was Owen Jones, socialist and columnist. It was the second time he had graced the platform and he thrilled the audience with a wide ranging speech. He started by referring to his grandfather, a railway worker, who struck in solidarity with the miners in 1926 and went on to praise the women who took part in the 1984/85 strike referring to them as the “real iron ladies”. He criticised the right wing press for their constant attacks on the trade union links with the Labour Party and that party’s feeble response. He said that Labour should be proud of the support it gets from workers, unlike the Tories who are funded by bankers, hedge funds and loan sharks, the very people that plunged the country in crisis in 2008. The official Labour opposition had gone AWOL, we were the official opposition now he exclaimed. He reminded us that the rights we had won over the centuries had been won from below. “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” His final call was for unity in the struggles ahead. “Stand together, fight together and together we can win these battles” he concluded.

All in all an inspirational day and the weather was good!

You can see Jeremy’s speech on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpKhRURuXSs

Owen’s is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIG1czpgooQ

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