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The Sights and Sounds of the Big Meeting as Record Crowds Pour Into England's Durham City Center



By Gavin Havery

July 8, 2017 - The 133rd Durham Miners' Gala in England has attracted a record crowd of more than 200,000 people, organizers of the event say.

As masses of people paraded through the city center, Jeremy Corbyn and film director Ken Loach looked on from the balcony of the Royal County Hotel, applauding and displaying their joy at the scenes.

After watching the parades, Mr. Corbyn listed numerous reasons why the event was relevant.

He said: "Today is about injustice and inequality in our society. Young people loaded with debt because they went to college or university, unable to get homes on their own, unable to get good secure jobs.

"Too many working on zero hours contracts or low pay, and at the top end tax relief, tax giveaways and a greater gap between the richest and poorest in our society. It is not right, it is not necessary."

Mr. Corbyn also paused to pay tribute to Bradley Lowery, of Blackhall, who died yesterday, saying the youngster had "touched a lot of hearts".

He expressed his condolences to the family of the six-year-old and said he had been a catalyst for medical advances.

The Labour leader added the gala was "Europe's biggest demonstration of working class culture".

He said: "It's incredibly important for everyone to be here today.

"It is the most amazing demonstration of community strength.

"It's grown out of the struggles of the miners during the 19th, 20th and now in this century, it's a community event."

He refused to be drawn into a row about some local Labour MPs being "disinvited" from the event.

On seeing the Labour leader, crowd watching the parades chanted "There's only one Jeremy Corbyn". 

Alan Cummings, general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, says the gala had attracted record numbers.

Mr. Cummings said: “The gala is a celebration of mining culture and history but there has always a political side and more and more people are staying to listen to the speeches."

Armed police are on the streets to protect those attending - following the recent terror atrocities in Britain - the largest gathering of trade unionists in Europe.

Director Mr. Loach, whose films include I, Daniel Blake and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, said he had found watching the parades to be a remarkable experience.

He said: "It is the first time I have come to the gala. I have found it really moving when the banners come down the streets outside the hotel.

"It is about strength. It is about confidence and about people affirming their position, their rights, their demand for a decent life. It is about saying this is who we are and these are the principles we stand on." 

Among those parading is Cameron Dulston, 27, of Darlington, who is a pipe major with Newton Aycliffe Pipe Band.

He said: "It is the biggest event for us of the year. It is a fantastic event.

"There is always an air of excitement about the day. We always look forward to it - the general public, the atmosphere, what it stands for, what it means. We all have an understanding of it."

While many of those attending are veterans of the event, significant numbers are experiencing it for the first time.

Richard Marshall, of Gateshead, said his initial experience had been one of excitement.

People from across the country have arrived in the city to mark the region’s coal mining heritage and discuss socialist ideas.

Thousands of young people, many born after the last pit closed in the North-East who have never experienced the brass bands and banners of a Big Meeting, were expected to attend to hear the 68-year-old Islington North MP.

Charlotte Austin, 18, from Bishop Auckland, who is studying history at Oxford University, said: “People are very excited about Jeremy Corbyn and what he has to say. He has finally given young people something to believe in.

“The gala is a brilliant time to reflect on out past, see where we are going in the future and to bring our whole community together.”

The gala, which in recent years was derided for being out-of-date looks set to enjoy the biggest numbers since the heyday of the 50s and 60s.

Social worker Graham Grundy, 59, from Peterlee, said: “It want to hear people singing the Jeremy Corbyn song, loud and proud for Durham. I want people to know that County Durham is rooted in socialism. We will prove it tomorrow. We will show the world.”

The first gala, held in Wharton Park in 1871, was born out of trade unionism among miners of the Durham Coalfield and staged to show solidarity and share political ideas.

Mr. Cummings said: “Jeremy has tapped into something. His was one of the best manifestos I have seen out of the Labour Party in a number of years.

“Jeremy has grown even more in the last five weeks and he has attracted support from people who would have not thought about it previously.”

“Hopefully we have got the next Prime Minister speaking here.”

Mr. Cummings has taken over from the late Davey Hopper, who died aged 73 a week after last year’s gala, having described it as ‘the best ever’.

As well as the celebrating recent labour movement successes, the gala will be tinged with sadness at the passing of the socialist stalwart who organised the event for over 30 years.

Mr. Cummings said: “Davey supported Jeremy from day one and it is sad that he hasn’t lived to see what has took place in the couple few months. That socialist principal is something Davey always believed in.

“He will be up there with Davey Guy smiling because it has come around to his way of thinking.”

Mr. Cummings said: “It is community-based event and is celebrating the rich mining heritage and culture of the area.

“It has now got a wider appeal and I still get a real buzz from the gala.

“It re-invigorates the soul and recharges the battery. We have people from all over the country and all over the world coming, sometimes for the first time."


The miners of Houghton le Spring are commemorated at Durham Miners' Gala Picture