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A day to honour working people and our community heroes

Celebrate our key workers as part of the Durham Miners' Gala – and then fight for them, says Unite general secretary LEN McCLUSKEY

FOR a century-and-a-half the Durham Miners’ Gala has been admired around the world, a carnival of community like no other.

The streets filled with music and songs, brass and banners are the very definition of solidarity.  

But just because we won’t be gathering this year it doesn’t mean we will be silent. 

We will still link arms as Marras and workers to celebrate our historic Gala online.

As trade unionists we have found many ways to stand shoulder to shoulder, across our nations as well as internationally, during this global pandemic. 

Shoulder to shoulder we will continue to stand, because what working people do for our country, our economy and our communities has never been as clear as it is now. 

Unite members have been on the front line throughout the crisis. 

Our health and care workers, hospital porters, cleaners, refuse workers, public and road transport workers, crematorium staff, supermarket staff, food processing workers and so many more.

These are our overlooked and undervalued key workers, low- paid but not low-skilled, who have risked their own lives, working non-stop and long hours during the lockdown, committed to the services they provide. 

They have kept us safe and our communities working. We thank them, and we owe them so much. 

Covid-19 has reinforced why key workers deserve substantial pay rises. Over the last 10 years, the average wage of a council worker has fallen by 22 per cent, yet the national employer has offered just a 2.75 per cent increase — not enough for a bus fare. 

Not surprisingly, our local-authority members call it an insult and demand more.

Our NHS workforce too needs to be shown respect through a decent wage. We and our sister health unions have demanded pay talks start without delay in recognition of those who’ve put their lives on the line battling the virus. 

On the 72nd anniversary of the NHS last weekend, Unite members shared their birthday wishes and hopes and fears for the service’s future. 

Rightly they called for the staff to be celebrated as much as the institution, not just in times of crisis but day in, day out.

Doing that must also mean abolishing zero-hours contracts, which in the health and social-care sectors leave so many forced to work while they’re sick, unable to qualify for statutory sick pay and having to choose between poverty and the lives they care for. 

So today must be a day for the labour movement to honour all key workers and resolve to make sure that a reckoning will come from this crisis.

Neither will we let the government sit on its hands while decent jobs in our industrial heartlands — the heartlands first abandoned by Thatcher and now by Rishi Sunak — hang by a thread. 

The Chancellor may consider that tens of thousands of skilled jobs are “dead weights” but we call them breadwinners and we are determined to win them a better future. 

Just as we will stop the greedy bosses using the pandemic to slash jobs and pay. 

The Durham Miners’ Gala is a day we celebrate our trade-union history and values. 

Fighting for fairness and human decency is in our DNA. And so my message to the Durham Miners’ Association and to my Marra friends around the world, is celebrate today. 

Celebrate working people and our community heroes, linking arms however we can. 

Stay upbeat and stay determined, because when this crisis is over we will be back, bigger and better in 2021 — the Gala’s 150th anniversary year.

There’s nothing like the Durham Miners’ Gala, and there is nothing that will ever, ever beat our great movement.


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