Durham Miners’ Gala 2019

On the 13th July 2019 I attended the Durham Miners’ Gala for the first time. Not only was I there to see it, but I was invited to march with my UCU colleagues at the Northern Branch behind the wonderful Bearpark and Esh Colliery Band. As someone who has been researching trade unions for a couple of years now, this felt like more of a pilgrimage than a trip. I took a lot of pictures, but I’ve selected just a few to share here:

Firstly, a big thank you to the Northern Region branch of the UCU for adopting us for the day! I didn’t sort out getting our Wolverhampton banner in time, but we were made to feel very welcome by our northern colleagues. The depiction of the Angel of the North is stunning! Another banner that caught my eye earlier on was this one:

The back of the West Rainton and Leamside Adventure Colliery was designed by children. It was great to see their gorgeous colours and imagery being displayed in order to show the continuity of mining legacy.

One of many examples of Hardie popping up on the banners!

The route of the march took us past the Market Tavern. This was the place in which the Durham Miners’ Association was formed in 1869. (Thanks Ben for the info!)

Some bagpipes were thrown into the usual brass band mix. I couldn’t see where they were from, but I noted the Coal Not Dole sticker!

As the march progresses, tradition dictates that each group pauses in from of the County Hotel and plays a song for the dignitaries on the balcony. It was great to see Emily Thornberry bopping about to the music!

It was a real pleasure to meet the UCU’s new General Secretary Dr Jo Grady, daughter of a miner and passionate union activist, and new UCU VP Dr Vicky Blake, known for her dedication to anti-casualisation.

The banners always amaze me. I particularly liked the milk bottles and picture of Ellen Wilkinson for the NASUWT, and the ‘knowledge is power’ slogan for the Dawdon Lodge. Some are very intricate, and many have clear socialist/political statements (more on that later). When they have arrived in the field, they are set up around the perimeter until it is time for them to head back to the cathedral for the ceremony. I noted lots of discarded brass instruments as band members headed for a well-deserved pint.

Then came the speakers… and the rain! Jeremy Corbyn gave a great speech, but Laura Pidcock was sensational. She will be doing great things for this country, without a doubt.

If you don’t want a banner, there are other options!

The Miners’ Gala is a broad church these days, and doesn’t confine itself to mining communities in the Durham area. I met some of the great people behind the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign from the 1984/5 strike, as well as people supporting the Freedom for Abdullah Ocalan movement.

It was very moving (though of course not surprising) to see that the Justice for Orgreave campaigners were met with clapping and cheers of support as they entered the field.

Attending the Big Meeting was an incredible experience, and I’m very grateful to Dr Mark Pendleton for arranging it for those of us that are taking part in the UK and Japan Coalfields research project, and pleased to be able to share such a celebration of working class British culture with our Japanese colleagues. I was excited to go and see it, but it surprised me how emotional it was to be a part of such an event. The atmosphere was celebratory and friendly, and the poignant reminders of solidarity and struggle in the banners, conversation and speeches were both invigorating and soothing.

I’ll definitely be going again!

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