Hearing of the death of Davey Hopper on Saturday evening was incredibly sad and came as a terrible shock. Just a few days earlier I’d shared a lovely lunch with Dave and his wife Maritza. Dave was in great spirits after the Gala, which had seen a record number of people on the racecourse and was particularly enthused that so many young people had been there. Already, he had his sights set on the campaign to get Jeremy Corbyn re-elected and was looking forward to playing his part.
I have heard many accounts of Davey’s activities in the NUM, including his heroics during the 1984/5 strike and his activism in the Labour Party over many decades, which I hope other tributes do full justice to. But I can only really speak of what I’ve seen first-hand in the past couple of years.
On a personal level he was a very generous man, who always had time for people. He had his firmly held views and was never afraid to express them, but he was not a remotely egotistical person. In fact, he was very self-effacing and was constantly talking up and encouraging others. He also had a great, often mischievous sense of humour and was a brilliant raconteur.
Davey’s commitment to the class and community that he came from was absolute. Were it not for the endeavours of Davey and his colleagues at the DMA, thousands of people in County Durham and beyond would not have received a penny of compensation for terrible, debilitating industrial diseases such as vibration white finger, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Not only that, but many people would have gone without representation and support in employment tribunals and social security claims.
In addition, along with his friend and comrade the late Dave Guy, he made sure that the Durham Miners’ Gala not only survived after the closure of the pits, but continued to thrive.
He was a proud socialist and a critic of wars and nuclear weapons, believing that instead, those funds should be invested into jobs, housing, health and education for the benefit of ordinary people. He was also a passionate internationalist, who had a real knowledge of workers’ struggles in other countries and always ensured that the Gala’s great internationalist tradition was upheld by inviting international speakers.
Over the past year Davey was as active as ever. He attended countless trade union conferences, urging delegates to stay strong and never give in. He backed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid from day one, and memorably delivered a blistering speech at the North East rally in support of Jeremy which earned him a standing ovation. He was a strong supporter of the local anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, the local Socialist Clothing Bank and was at the forefront of forging links between the DMA and LGBT rights activists. Furthermore, just in the past few months, in the face of a lot of pressure, he stood in total solidarity with local teaching assistants facing a pay cut and of course, continued to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jeremy Corbyn. And just a few days prior to this year’s Gala, he addressed an NUT strike rally in Durham. For Davey, solidarity was not just a word; it was a way of life.
Since Davey’s untimely death, I have frequently cast my mind to the Gala earlier this month. What a moment of triumph and vindication. Davey was one of those who kept the flame alive in some very dark times for our movement: when Thatcherism ripped the heart out of the mining communities and when New Labour shunned working-class communities and the trade union movement. And yet, last Saturday, there he was, side by side with his old friends Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner, being cheered on by a massive and youthful crowd, the like of which has not been seen in recent times. After many years of condescension and derision about being “stuck in the past”, here was irrefutable proof that in fact, it is Davey’s vision for society which represents the future.
A fighter, an organiser, an intellect, an orator – Davey had it all and I miss him greatly already.
“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Rest in peace Davey and thank you for everything marra.