LAST weekend I had a wonderful and inspiring time as part of a movement that I love being part of. I attended three amazing events which together are an illustrative example of how although the work Labour does in Parliament is vital, we can’t build socialism just by our work in Parliament alone.
On Friday, I spoke in Trafalgar Square at the demonstration against Donald Trump’s policies and against Theresa May’s decision to roll out the red carpet for him. It was inspiring to see 250,000 people there, coming together to show support for a better world than the one offered by billionaire Trump’s promotion of sexism, racism and his allegiance to Wall Street and the top 1 per cent — rather than the 99 per cent to whom he pretends to be a friend.
This demonstration was huge, impassioned and inspiring. I quoted Martin Luther King, who said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We need movements tackling injustices everywhere, with the Labour Party being their ally in those battles.
It was great to see Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn address a sea of people and get such an enthusiastic response for his political vision and ideas. Since Jeremy was elected leader, we’ve almost begun to take it for granted that the Labour Party leader speaks at gatherings against war, racism and inequality and for internationalism and justice.
But we should never forget how important it is that Jeremy has always done this and we should never forget that in doing so as leader he has returned Labour to the vision and ideals of Labour’s founder and first leader, Keir Hardie. Commentators who object to Jeremy doing this are quite simply wrong and fail to understand the roots of our Labour Party.
Straight after speaking in Trafalgar Square, I hopped on the train up to Durham ready for an early start at the 134th Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday. It’s my favourite day of the year and it was wonderful to be among 200,000 people united by a pride in working-class culture and history and socialist struggles past, present and future. From the balcony I was fortunate to get a bird’s-eye view of band after band and banner after banner and comrade after comrade on their way down to the rally at the racecourse.
At the weekend I mentioned in a tweet that it was the 15th consecutive Durham Miners’ Gala I’ve attended but, having done a recount since then, I realise it has been 16 back-to-back Durham Miners’ Galas for me. It was the best one yet that I’ve attended. It’s great to see Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Alan Cummings doing such an incredible job, building on the legacy of Davey Hopper and Dave Guy and, of course, of all the Durham miners since the first Gala in 1871.
Alan seemed omnipresent at the Gala — doing everything from distributing the water bottles to the crowds on a baking hot day to ensuring the bands, banners and marchers moved on in time to allow the next group to come along and have their turn. It was great to see that the huge fundraising efforts that the Friends of the Durham Miners’ Gala have undertaken have borne such fruit and testimony to this was a brand-spanking-new professional stage set-up, big screen and crystal-clear sound system.
Via that big screen US socialist Bernie Sanders delivered a wonderful solidarity message to the huge crowds in attendance and there was also a brilliantly moving and inspiring video introduction to Dennis Skinner’s Gala speech. Speeches from Dennis, Jeremy, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, Labour Party chair Ian Lavery, Labour Party general secretary Jennie Formby, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack and Kurdish solidarity speaker Ibrahim Dogus made for a thought-provoking and inspiring rally.
Again, it’s encouraging that now it’s once again established that the leader of the Labour Party makes a point of going to address the Durham Miners’ Gala. This was a tradition which had its origins during the leadership of Keir Hardie but in more recent decades has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance!
On Sunday, I joined Momentum national co-ordinator Laura Parker to speak at the opening session of the Momentum conference. It was good to get the chance to thank Momentum members for all they did to get Jeremy elected as Labour Party leader in the first place, elected as leader again in the unnecessary and divisive second leadership election and — crucially — all they contributed towards our significant electoral advance in the 2017 general election.
In my speech, I made the point that making our party more democratic is an essential part of modernisation but that this alone will not deliver socialism. Just as the trade unions which founded the Labour Party act as a bridge between the party and the struggles in the world of work, so Momentum can play a crucial role in acting as a bridge between the party and other wider layers of people in society — such as women’s campaigns, migrants’ groups, environmental campaigns, tenants’ associations and peace organisations. Joining up all those struggles is essential in Labour being a party for the many not the few.
Later sessions in what was an excellent programme included a discussion on the economy with Labour’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey outlining how Labour really is now offering an alternative.
For me, the demonstration against Trump, the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Momentum conference showcase different aspects of our rich, varied and ever-growing movement. All three will have a key role to play in the battle for a Corbyn-led government
A Labour government will not be won — or successfully defended — by speaking at the despatch box or by parliamentary motions alone. These things are vitally important. But to secure a government which sets about successfully achieving a fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth, power and control in favour of working people and their families will require currents of pressure throughout society on the political and economic Establishment.
If these currents do not exist then we will not be able to unite the 99 per cent against the entrenched interests of the elites. And without joining up all our struggles, inside and outside Parliament, in both the trade union and wider social movements, then mounting an effective defence of that government against wealthy elites and their media friends will be a much more difficult task.
We are fortunate indeed at this point in history to have a leader who is part of these different but complimentary currents represented by the range of progressive movements at the rally in Trafalgar Square, the trade union and socialist movements at the Durham Miners’ Gala and the new grassroots movement represented at the Momentum conference. Together, let’s make sure we make the most of it.
Richard Burgon is Labour’s shadow justice secretary and MP for Leeds East. He writes every other Thursday in the Morning Star. https://twitter.com/richardburgon
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