Far away from the Westminster bubble, and challenges to his leadership, tens of thousands people attending the 132nd Durham Miners Gala last Saturday gave Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a rapturous reception, boosting both his confidence and his campaign to remain leader of the party against an expected challenge from Wallasey MP Angela Eagle.
During his speech he pledged his support to the 2,700 teaching assistants employed by Durham County, a Labour council, who are to be made redundant and then re-employed with pay cuts of up to 23 per cent. They plan to pay them for term time work only, rather than for 52 weeks over the year. The staff are represented by the GMB, Unison and Unite unions and Unison has calculated that the teaching assistants will lose between £200-£400 per month of their salaries.
Earlier some 500 of them had lined up in the procession, collecting signatures for a petition against the Council’s proposals, before marching over Elvet Bridge, past the County Hotel where union leaders and other guests, including the Labour leader, stood on the balcony, and then on to the Gala field, flanked by NUM banners and bands.
Despite overcast skies and the odd short heavy shower, the enthusiasm for the occasion was not dampened. Richard Burgon MP for Leeds East gave a rousing speech in support of Jeremy accusing the Establishment of going into over-drive to get rid of the Labour leader. ‘You cannot kill solidarity’ he said.
Dennis Skinner MP, a veteran of the Gala and former Derbyshire miner, gave a barnstorming address in which he said that the movement had been waiting for years for someone who looks towards the people and is prepared to fight to the bitter end. ‘That man is Jeremy Corbyn’ he said to loud cheers. ‘Looking at this crowd, don’t tell me he can’t win’, he concluded and they loved it and him.
Other trade union leaders called for solidarity with Jeremy, while Frances O’Grady TUC general secretary, aware of the recent increase in racist attacks, called on people to stand together following the EU referendum and against the racist right.
International speakers included two of the Miami 5 who were jailed in the US for exposing the activities of Cuban exile terrorist groups based in Miami responsible for death attacks in Cuba. Mexico miners’ leader and human rights activist, who cannot return to his country for fear of losing his life, spoke just before Jeremy, calling for a more just future for people all over the world.
Then to chants of ‘Corby stays’ Jeremy addressed the crowd. He said that he was often asked if he was under pressure. ‘There is no pressure on me. The real pressure is when you don’t have enough to feed your kids or have a roof over your head.’ He described his win last year as a victory ‘for those who believed in a really just society and that socialist ideas and socialism are the way forward.’ He went on to support calls for a full inquiry into the event at Orgreave coking plant in 1984 saying that mining communities in the North have ‘unfinished business’.
His wide ranging speech, which ran for just over 30 minutes, left nobody in any doubt about his determination to fight for those who elected him as leader a year ago with nearly 60 per cent of the vote, and the crowd made it clear that they were with him all the way.