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Monday, 11 July 2011

Updated with pics: Durham Miners 2011: Remembering our Past - Winning the Future

The massive turn out for the 127th Annual Durham Miners Gala, (otherwise known as the Big Meeting), estimated at 100,000 shows the importance and relevance of an event which marks the proud history and traditions of the mining communities, and trade unions across the North East.

Organised by the National Union of Mineworkers this event is one of the most important political events in the calendar of Labour Movement.

This year it is held at a time when the North East is seeing a Coalition Government introducing political and economic policies which will have a detrimental impact on the region for years to come. A region which still bears the scars of the Thatcher era and the consequences of a political policy which closed the mines, and destroyed communities.

This year the focus for the gala was on the threats to the region and our communities from the attacks on public services. UNISON General Secretary was one of the keynote speakers and his wide ranging speech dealt with the continuing threat from the far right as well as the Con Dem assault on jobs, pensions and services..

The North East has the highest level of public sector employment in the country, 1:3 jobs are public sector. It is estimated that around 30,000 public sector jobs will be lost in austerity plans, and if that were not bad enough the knock on effect for private sector jobs is around another 20,000 . It is economic madness to make public sector workers unemployed when they spend 64p of every £1 earnt in the the local economy, if they are not earning any money they have none to spend.

Women and young people are being particuarly hard hit, with the women being the majority of the public sector workforce, and young people being squeezed between exorbitant tuition fees, and a lack of apprenticeships and jobs, and we have the highest level of young people's unemployment at 27%. This is before the loss of essential public services which some of the most vulernable in our society rely on.

We are seeing the loss of services such as Sure Start, which has been proven to make a difference to the lives of under 5s; we are seeing the loss of Connexions, which is proven to help young people find work; we are seeing the loss of badly needed local charities which are proven to have helped people with disabilities, and women subjected to domestic abuse to name a few.

We are told by the Government that we are over-reliant on public sector jobs, and need to create more private sector growth. That sounds fairly sensible until you realise it was the Thatcher government who decimated manufacturing the Region, and this Government is following suit by abolishing the Regional Development Agency which is proven to have attracted private sector investment in the region. The economy is stagnant. This is not a time to be slashing public services, but to be investing in them to help generate the economic growth so badly needed.

This is why the Durham Miners Gala is so important. With this year's theme of Defend Public Services, and the promotion of the Northern Public Services Alliance, bringing together trade unions, campaigning groups, charities, and communities to campaign against this Government's policies, and promoting an alternative, one of investment in public services; introducing a Robin Hood tax; tackling banker's bonuses; and scaping Trident which would allow the deficit to be reduced in a way which does not make ordinary working people pay the price for an economic crisis not of their making.

The region has a proud trade union history, understanding that working people need to come together collectively to campaign for a society that speaks up for equality and respect, not discrimination and hatred. That is why Far Right parties have not made any gains in local elections in the North East - a record to be proud of, - and that is why events such as the Miners Gala are still so relevant today, celebrating our proud history, and reminding us we can have to come together and build the biggest alliance of trade unionists, campaigners, voluntary sector, and communities to challenge this Government, and to fight for the future of this Region. It is important to remember our history, and to use it to shape our future.

Clare Williams
Regional Convenor
Northern Region UNISON