Militant trade unionism makes a comeback in the UK

The Durham miners’ gala showcases the heritage of coal mining in the city and the rich working class traditions of militancy and trade unionism

July 12, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Section of the rally from the Durham Miners’ Gala 2022. Photo: Twitter

200,000 workers, trade unionists, progressive activists and more gathered at the Durham Miners’ Gala on July 9 after a two year hiatus due to COVID-19 regulations. The festival organized by Durham Miners’ Association featured speakers such as Mick Lynch from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Sharon Graham of Unite, Jo Grady from University and Colleges Union (UCU), Patrick Roach from teachers’ union NASUWT, and Yvette Williams from Justice4Grenfell. 

This year’s Gala was dedicated to all essential workers who risked their lives to keep society running during the COVID-19 pandemic. To honor those workers, Holly Johnston, a nurse and member of the GMB trade union and Rohan Kon, a postal worker and member of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) were invited to address the event. More than 50 Durham miners’ banners and more than 50 brass bands participated in this year’s gala.

The Durham Miners’ Gala celebrates the city’s coal mining heritage and the history of trade unionism in the Durham Coalfields, in which around a hundred deep mines operated at their peak. The first union of miners was established in the region in 1869, and the first gala was organized in 1871. To this date, 136 annual galas have been organized with the exception of the period of World Wars, miners’ strikes and the COVID-19 period. During the gala, workers including ex-miners march in the city under the banners representing the unions from specific mines, accompanied by brass bands. Most of the banners paraded in the gala represent working class symbols and personalities associated with the unions. The popular banner of the Chopwell Miners’ Lodge has the images of Karl Marx, Lenin and a hammer and sickle. 

This year’s gala is especially important due to the massive participation of diverse sectors of the working class from across the UK and the presence of the leaders such Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union which has waged a militant strike of rail workers against austerity and the cost of living crisis. In addition to the deep economic crisis facing the country, there is also a protracted political crisis due to the chaotic Tory government, as well as the sidelining of the left-wing within the Labour Party. Amidst the cost of living crisis, trade unions are on the frontlines fighting for the survival of the working class and the country itself.

As RMT leader Mick Lynch said at the gala, “The working class is back. We refuse to be humble any more. We refuse to be poor any more. We are sick and tired of the Old Etonians, the Old Harrovians, the Oxbridge elite, people who have never worked in their lives. We have cities, towns, villages of working-class men and women having to claim benefits while they are working 40, 50 and 60 hours a week. This cannot stand.

“The Tories and their friends are ruthless in their pursuit of profit. We have to be ruthless in our pursuit of justice for the working class. They want to rip up our conditions, our pay, our pensions. We will not tolerate this. The RMT is ready to act and we will act. But we need the trade union movement with us. Make every worker a trade union member, every member an activist, every activist a campaigner and turn this into a campaign of strike action,” Lynch added.

Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the Unite union stated, “workers are sent out every time to deal with a crisis whilst others sit at home. When the crisis is over they expect us to pay for it. Let our message be clear, absolutely no more! We will not let the rich and powerful take us for a ride again”.