Thank you so much to Alan Mardghum – what a fine President of the 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 here on this platform at this historic event. I am here completely humbled by the invitation. I think, however, I’m going to have to go into retirement now, because there is nothing that bears 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. 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. Those of us who came after your work was done, we will never, ever forget what you did and the sacrifices you made.
And to the women of that struggle, of this region and throughout the coalfields, who raised funds, 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 Myrtle McPherson, Heather Wood, Ann Scargill, Florence Anderson, Betty Cook, Juliana Heron, Joan Guy, Brenda Hopper and so many other women of the struggle, we salute you.
We are living with the scars of that period, are we not? Thatcher’s neo-liberal and 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 nose: huge chunks of our NHS, gifted to the vultures who couldn’t care less about the health of our mothers, or fathers or children; people being paid less and less to work more and more; exploitation, so commonplace it is invisible. Disillusion, disappointment and fear haunt our communities. So scared are people of the DWP, scared of their employer, scared of the bank, scared of the future.
But I want to make one thing clear. We cannot hope for our lives to improve, we can’t even talk about the very survival of our planet without facing up to a fundamental truth; that it is the capitalist system which is at the root of this destruction, and it is the capitalist system that must be looked 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 proudly and powerfully be 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, we 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 know that is the root of our power.
And 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 is tiring arguing for a different system; it is exhausting battling the press; it is energy sapping being the one to stand up, only to be met with outrage or apathy; it is painful being called an extremist when you have fought for peace your whole life, or when you’re called a racist when you define yourself by your anti-racist activism.
But in years to come, when the history books look back, people will be in awe that you did not shrink back from the fire. Take your anger, take your pain and your frustration, take your deep dissatisfaction with this system and occupy every single space with your politics without embarrassment, hesitation or fear. There is nothing, nothing more important than this political project.
And of course, we must stay disciplined, we must not underestimate the forces we are up against. We must use our energy, not on those who are fickle or flighty, but on defeating the evils of exploitation, greed and the unfettered power of the ruling class. 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, the darkest hour is just before dawn. Well, sisters and brothers, dawn is on its way. We everything to win!