Celebrating class solidarity

A throng of ex-miners, trade unionists, assorted leftists and other miscellaneous visitors poured into Durham University cricket ground on an idyllic Saturday afternoon for the 118th Durham Miners Gala, an annual celebration of miners' militancy and working class solidarity. Official sources and the Morning Star (one of the sponsors of the July 13 event) reported a crowd of 50,000, but this seems somewhat exaggerated, 15,000 perhaps being a more accurate estimate. Although something of a trade union bureaucrat's day out, this year's gala was nonetheless characterised by a healthy rank and file atmosphere and a degree of political substance, with the North East Campaign for Asylum Rights and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign both very much in evidence, alongside a range of political groups from the Communist Party of Britain to Class War (interestingly, the Socialist Labour Party of former National Union of Mineworkers president Arthur Scargill was almost invisible). The Unison and GMB unions were also in prominent attendance, issuing a call for solidarity with council workers striking on July 17. Despite the encouraging presence of the Socialist Alliance's supporting organisations, what could have been a significant SA intervention ended up as a myriad of divergent stalls and paper-sellers, each pushing the line of the individual group. The Socialist Workers Party ensured that the Anti-Nazi League had a stall of its own, yet the SA was present only in the form of a few posters placed along the march route. If this sectarian attitude were overcome, and our forces (equipped, of course, with a Socialist Alliance paper) effectively combined, the SA would have provided the largest political contingent, with the possible exception of the Labour Party, which on occasion still presents itself as a working class force in these parts. The Weekly Worker, with its feature looking back at Scargill's reign in the NUM, proved popular and we sold out well before the end. There was also, however, a hostile reaction from one or two miners, who, it seems, cannot bear to hear a bad word uttered about Britain's most militant trade union leader of the last half-century. Despite the fact that the critical article was written by Dave Douglass, an NUM militant and revolutionary activist, we were dubbed by one Scargill loyalist "lackeys of the bourgeoisie". Nevertheless, the message was one of solidarity, and the event was a clear success. It showed that, even in this period of reaction, and almost two decades after the miners' Great Strike, the working class can celebrate victories and remember defeats. It was also, with a range of entertainment on offer, a fun family day out. Perhaps the hundreds of children enjoying the Ferris wheels and helter-skelters which lined the fringe of the cricket ground on Saturday will also have soaked in some of the atmosphere of class solidarity. James Bull