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EARLY July each year always means a trip northward to the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meeting, the biggest working-class festival in Europe — a chance to spend a few nights in the great city of Durham taking part in what for me and many thousands from Yorkshire is always a celebration of working people coming together in solidarity to celebrate our collective mining past, and to look forward and organise for a better future for all workers.
However, 2020 sees a different Gala. As we all grapple with lockdown, illness and many deaths, social-distancing measures and the strain on public services, the Gala has taken on a new face. We can now all attend and take part online — as we now have done with many things in our lives — with such events we have taken for granted and never missed are now enjoyed in a different way and by different means.
I have to confess that I will greatly miss the gathering of friends old and new in the city this weekend, the buzz of waking early Saturday morning to enjoy walking around listening to the bands practise, to see whole villages and the different trade unions preparing to march, and awaiting the arrival at the County Hotel, where all the bands stop and deliver a tune to those on the balcony and the thousands of others enjoying their big day out.
It is also a time when we hear from our trade union leaders, politicians and the activists and others who fight for justice, equality and the betterment of all workers.
This is to me very uplifting and renews the appetite to organise and fight for a better society. And as the weekend draws to a close and the crowds drift home across the region and further afield, you always feel renewed and committed to everything the Gala represents.
That’s why this year we must all pause and understand the need this time to join in online to enjoy the many events listed. The virus is still among us, and social distancing could never happen at the Gala.
This will give us a chance to turn our minds to the millions of workers in the NHS and care sectors, the public and private-sector workers who have kept us all going during the lockdown, something we have never seen in our lifetimes.
The nurses, doctors and care workers, shop workers, public transport staff, and all those vital support roles keeping society going — among them cleaners, delivery drivers, postal workers — some of them suffering low pay and working in very precarious jobs, with many on zero-hours contracts, have all put themselves on the line, some even dying on the front line to keep us safe.
As we begin to ease restrictions, many workers including those who risked their own well-being, are now unsure about their jobs, with thousands still furloughed and thousands more being made redundant, we cannot go back to the status quo.
Workers need a new deal, we need major investment especially into our regions to improve transport, rebuild our public services from the devastation of 10 years of Tory austerity, and invest in the green economy to provide decent, well-paid work, new skills opportunities for those displaced by the need for a zero carbon economy, and good opportunities for the next generation from Durham, Yorkshire and around the country.
Trade unions will be at the forefront of these demands and the public know that if they stand together in the spirit of the Durham Miners’ Gala, we can change the world for the better.
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