Year 2000 No. 109, July 10, 2000

Durham Miners’ Gala and Big Meeting Sets the Agenda as the "Hewing of Society"

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Durham Miners’ Gala and Big Meeting Sets the Agenda as the "Hewing of Society"

From the Souvenir Programme of the 116th Durham Miners’ Gala:
The Durham Spirit Marches On

Peugeot Workers Vote to Strike

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Durham Miners’ Gala and Big Meeting Sets the Agenda as the "Hewing of Society"

The 116th Durham Miners Gala’ and Big Meeting took place on Saturday, July 8. This year an estimated 30,000 working people took part in the Gala with over 30 contingents led by colliery bands and over 60 banners marching through Durham onto the racecourse to take part in the Big Meeting and Gala. In the programme it was announced that the Gala was safe for the New Millennium. "There were those who thought that the Big Meeting had no relevance once the deep mines had been destroyed, but they have been proved wrong. By raising the finance to continue the Gala the communities have demonstrated that our 'Day in Durham' means more than just mines. The Durham Miners’ Gala is not so much about the 'hewing of coal' as the 'hewing of society'."

Tomorrow WDIE will carry a report of the speeches given at the Big Meeting.

Very noticeable this year was the increasing number of young people taking part and the serious political atmosphere that prevails in this important North East festival of the working class. From early in the morning, activists of RCPB(ML) engaged in political work distributing hundreds of statements of the Northern Regional Committee entitled The Working Class Must Set Out On The Line Of March To The New Society and sold scores of Workers’ Weekly which had this statement as its lead, as well as number of very important articles on these questions. The activists discussed with many young people, workers and other political activists on the field and around the Party's bookstall at the riverside. Central to these discussions was the question that the Party was raising there that the way forward for the working class was to raise its political and cultural level by neither accepting the "Third Way" of New Labour, nor returning to some social democratic values of old Labour that have workers tied to the system. The way forward starts from the conception of a society built on the rights of all and of workers setting their own agenda and getting organised on the basis of bringing about the revolutionary transformation of society to socialism, the most modern and humane society there is.

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From the Souvenir Programme of the 116th Durham Miners’ Gala:

The Durham Spirit Marches On

The Durham Miners' Gala is safe for the New Millennium.

This is the verdict of the people of Durham and our many friends throughout the Trade Union Movement who have rallied to save this precious institution. There were those who thought that the Big Meeting had no relevance once Durham's deep mines had been destroyed, but they have been proved wrong. By raising the finance to continue the Gala the communities have demonstrated that our 'Day in Durham' means more than just mines. The Durham Miners' Gala is not so much about the 'hewing of coal' as the 'hewing of a society'.

It was of course the exploitation of coal in Durham that gave rise to Durham's communities. But it was the exploitation of the miners and their families which gave rise to a community spirit much more precious and lasting than the coal.

This spirit formed the first trade unions, the first death and accident funds, libraries and schools, welfare organisations, cooperative stores, clubs, Brass Bands, football and athletic clubs. All founded, administered and financed, by working men and women. In the face of adversity Durham people constructed their own compassionate society.

This spirit of mutual dependence sustained us in the darkest hours when the selfish pursuit of profit maimed and destroyed thousands of miners and blighted their families. Lock-outs and strikes, which established our right to justice could only be endured by a collective responsibility for the welfare of the individual. It is a spirit which has proclaimed that ultimately the future depends upon ourselves. This is as true and as necessary today as it ever was.

The decades of neglect and then the final destruction of the mining industry have created many problems.

Unemployment and low pay has left their mark on three generations. Drugs abuse, once only associated with inner city deprivation, has invaded our villages. Depopulation leads to empty housing stock, the target of slum landlords. All these problems have to be addressed and to address them we need our history. We need that spirit and those values with which our forefathers fought for a freedom, justice and a better life.

Many of our banners have faded and decayed, as banners made of cotton or silk do in the course of time, but in the face of new problems new banners are being made, in more and more communities. Banners are not cheap but committees have been set up, old comrades have rallied to raise thousands of pounds to ensure that this Gala will see again banners once laid to rest when the mine closed. More will follow next year.

This activity is not pure nostalgia harking back to a bygone age but a living movement. Testimony to the unfailing spirit that makes the Durham Miners' Gala a force for change in the New Millennium.

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Peugeot Workers Vote to Strike

Production workers at Peugeot's Ryton plant in Coventry have voted for strike action. The ballot over working hours was carried out amongst the plant's 4,000 workers. The outcome of the huge two-thirds majority has shocked the French owners and surprised the trade union leaders who did not believe that the workers would voice their opinions in such a forthright way.

Union leader Tony Woodley, of the TGWU, said he was "disappointed" that the workers had turned down the recommended acceptance of a thirty-six and three quarter hour working week, which included break times. The demand from the workers is for thirty-five hours including breaks. Woodley has offered the management the opportunity to meet at any hour of the day or night to meet and come up with a compromise. Union leaders conceded that the workers had expressed their will in the vote and said, "If the proposals for a thirty-six and three quarter hour working week remains, strike action is inevitable."

The Peugeot 206 has been a European best-seller pushing aside the opposition in an extremely competitive market. The company took on 1,000 extra workers at Ryton to meet demand. An extra production shift was started at Ryton covering Friday, Saturday and Sunday but the management's demand for A and B shifts to work alternate Friday nights was not seen by the shifts as coming under shorter working time. To meet the demand for the car, C shift was also told it would have to work on Mondays every six weeks. The company is obviously trying to lengthen the working week when it suits them and ride roughshod over agreements and workers' rights covering the working week and overtime.

The decision to strike has sent ripples throughout European motor manufacturing because of the workers' stand. Some observers believe that the demand for a shorter working week could open the way for the rest of the working class. Under these circumstances the Peugeot workers require support and solidarity. The holding back of wages and conditions has been a strategic aim of employers for a long time and a challenge over capitalist arrangements for the working week and wages has to develop. This aspect of the class struggle has to be seen as an important political contest.

Three dates have already been announced for industrial action. The plans are for two days at the end of this month and one in August. The launch of the action will be on July 27 when a 24-hour stoppage is planned.

The fact that the Peugeot have refused to be taken for granted means they are seeking a way out of their marginalisation. The militant position they are holding is important and should be supported.

West Midlands Correspondent

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