Thank you so much Alan Mardghum – what a fine President of Durham Miners Association you will make and, of course, I want to say thank you for everything that you did during the Miners’ Strike.
What an unbelievable honour it is to be on the platform at this historic event. And I am completely humbled by the invitation. I think, however, I’m going to have to go into retirement now, because there is nothing that beats speaking to you at this meeting.
Everything about this celebration is perfect, except one thing: I wish that my dad Bernard Pidcock was here. He died 5 months ago, and this was his favourite day. He was my best comrade and he would have been beaming with the warmth and the comradeship and the opportunity I have been given by the DMA. So, I dedicate what I am about to say to him.
This is the best of working-class culture: the incredibly moving brass bands, the beautiful banners painted in loving detail. Today we hold those banners high, because we are one movement; we are connected through our shared struggle, our principled beliefs and our unwavering optimism. We are one people standing up against the brutality of this system.
Today, in Durham, we remember those brave miners who stood up against the violence of Margaret Thatcher’s government. They resisted her determination to smash organised workers. And those who came after your work was done, we will never, ever forget what you did and the sacrifices that you made.
To the women of that struggle, of this region and throughout the coalfields, who raised funds, who raised awareness, who fed the communities through those hungry & bitter 18 months, who organised relentlessly. You were an equal and valiant partner in that struggle and so to Myrtle McPherson, Heather Wood, Ann Scargill, Florence Anderson, Betty Cook, Juliana Heron, Joan Guy, Brenda Hopper and so many other women in the struggle, we salute you.
We are living with the scars of that period, are we not? Thatcher’s neo-liberal, free-market dogma reveals fresh wounds every single day. Within the blink of an eye, through clever legislation, the propaganda of the papers and through the greed of the powerful, they have sucked the colour out of our communities.
So many of our schools, sold off from under our noses: huge chunks of our NHS, gifted to the vultures, who could not care less about the health of our mothers, or fathers or children; people being paid less and less to work more and more; exploitation is so commonplace it is invisible. Disillusion, disappointment and fear haunt our communities. So scared are people of the DWP, of their employer, scared of the bank, scared of their future.
But I want to make one thing clear. We cannot hope for our lives to improve, we can’t even talk about the survival of this planet without facing up to one fundamental truth: that it is the capitalist system which is at the root of this destruction, and it is the capitalist system which must be looked at squarely in the eyes and taken on.
Because comrades, there is another way. In government, I will oversee a Ministry of Labour, that Ministry will be proudly and powerfully on the side of the worker, it will free the trade union movement from their shackles, so they can organise and represent their members again. Zero-hour contracts will be banned, workers will have the confidence that their rights will be enforced and of course we will repeal the anti-trade union laws. A Labour government will see the biggest shift in power from employer to employee this country has ever seen. So, this is a message to the exploitative bosses, you are on borrowed time!
To realise this dream, you need to remember a fundamental thing: being working class is not about how you feel, it is fundamentally about your position in society. It is about the power you have. It is about what you own. It is about whether or not, by hand or by brain, you need to work to live. The fact is, that is the majority of us and working-class people know that is the root of our power.
Of course, of course, let’s not be naive: our determination to change the balance of power will be met with resistance, and there will be conflict in that ideological battle. And, so to the activists, I know this struggle is hard. I know it’s tiring arguing for a different system; it is exhausting battling the press; it’s energy sapping being that person to stand up, only to be met with outrage or apathy; it is painful being called an extremist when you have fought your whole life for peace; when you are called a racist when you define yourself by your anti-racism activism.
But, friends, in years to come, when we look back, people will be in awe that you did not shrink back from the fire. So, take your anger, take your pain, take your frustration, take your deep dissatisfaction with this system and occupy every single space with your politics without embarrassment, without hesitation and without fear. Because there is nothing, nothing more important than this political project.
Of course, we must stay disciplined, we must not underestimate the forces that we are up against. We must use our energy, however, not on those who are fickle and flighty, but on defeating the evils of exploitation, greed and the unfettered power of the ruling class.
And when we feel like that mountain is too high, remember each other here today. Get your head down, take one step at a time, we will defeat it. They say, comrades, that the darkest hour is just before dawn. Well, sisters and brothers, dawn is on its way. We have everything to win!