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FOR the first time since the second world war, the Durham Miners’ Gala has been cancelled, due to the Covid-19 crisis.
But we cannot let this day pass without laying down a marker; if the events of recent months have proved anything, it is that our movement is more vital now than ever.
The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the reality of the injustices and inequalities that plague our society.
The wealthy and fortunate will come out of this crisis largely unscathed but, for others, it has been a time of stress, anxiety and great danger. In this crisis, as with all crises, it is workers who have borne the brunt.
From the start, our government was slow to respond to the Covid-19 outbreak, and we have paid with the highest death toll in Europe.
But this inaction cannot be viewed in isolation. It comes after a decade of austerity that gutted public services and tore apart the very social fabric of this country.
More than 50,000 people have died. The coronavirus death rate in deprived areas of England has been twice that of wealthier areas.
Low-income and black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately hit. And all too often, it has been the very workers seeing us through this crisis who have paid with their lives.
The risks of a major pandemic were well-known and understood in government, but it chose not to prepare.
Instead of ensuring that we were ready for the emergency when it came, the government has spent a decade cutting the very services that we have relied on in this pandemic.
Those decisions have cost lives — and the buck stops with the Prime Minister.
This crisis has shown who really matters — who does the work that counts.
It’s not the Tory ministers or their friends in the board rooms turning a quick profit for themselves or their company.
It’s ordinary working people — in healthcare, in public services, in our supermarkets, in transport systems and in supply chains.
There will be kind words from Tory ministers thanking those who saw us through the darkest days of this pandemic.
But we all know that the Tory politicians who clapped each Thursday are never going to repay their debt to key workers.
In 2008, when the reckless financial sector crashed the global economy, workers paid the price.
That’s how modern capitalism works — and it’s already starting to happen again.
We’re seeing mass job losses, with worse still on the horizon.
After a decade of wage stagnation, many workers are seeing their pay packet cut again.
And, we’re seeing the government shift blame for its mishandling of the coronavirus crisis to workers, such as those in our care homes.
It’s highly likely as well that when this pandemic passes that the government will seek to unleash another wave of austerity for our public services.
We cannot let any of this pass unchallenged. We might not be able to meet in our hundreds of thousands in Durham today, but we can say with one voice that we will not accept a “recovery” like the last one. We want to do things differently.
We want a world based on the principles of the labour movement — of solidarity and socialism — and this crisis has shown it is possible.
Despite the hatred that is used to divide us, the spirit of solidarity is alive and well.
We can create a society where we help one another, where workers are at the heart of decision-making and where we all can have a fair stake in life.
We carry these principles in our hearts and our heads and they should be our guiding light for the post-Covid world.
So, while we cannot be in Durham today, we will still meet, talk, think and organise.
That’s how we’ve won all that we have in the past — and it’s how we will fight for our future.
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