Thousands cheered Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn this afternoon, Saturday, as he encouraged the crowds at the Durham Miners' Gala to campaign to force the Tories out.
Corbyn’s message to the Tories was “Feel free to resign at any time and we’ll have another general election.”
His speech summed up the triumphant and determined mood at the Gala, the biggest trade union and labour movement event in the country.
Some 200,000 people attended. It was one of the biggest turnouts in the Gala’s history, boosted by excitement and optimism generated by Corbyn’s leadership and the general election campaign.
Many of the people at the Gala were new Labour Party members, or had come for the first time.
Matthew Guest, a new young Labour member, told Socialist Worker, “I came here to see Jeremy Corbyn speak. Hearing that Corbyn was speaking made me aware of the Gala itself.”
And John Handy, a Unison union member, said, “We came here first last year and weren’t particularly politicised. But we were just swept along with the possibility of change.”
Speakers reflected the optimism in the crowd. There were big cheers every time a speaker celebrated the fact that the Labour Party—and British politics—had shifted left.
Corbyn called on Labour supporters and trade unionists to keep campaigning for the change in society that his successful general election campaign represents.
“Parliament alone will not change society,” he said. “It’s what we do in our daily lives and in our campaigns that’s important.”
He finished by telling the crowd, “The last fight let us face.”
Other speakers echoed the idea that the Tory government is on the verge of collapse and Labour could soon be in office.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the crowd, “Next time I speak to you, I don’t want to do it as the shadow education secretary, but as the education secretary.
“Our job now is to get May out of the way, and get a Labour government in office. Not just any Labour government comrades—a Labour government that can put into practice that manifesto we stood on.”
And Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey said that “Labour is just one more heave from office”.
He added, “There has been a real sense that fights against the cuts can succeed.”
That sense was everywhere at the Gala—along with a renewed feeling that it is possible to organise a fresh fightback from the trade unions.
Some people were optimistic that Labour could soon force the Tories out if it keeps on the same track and doesn’t bow to pressure to move right.
Jacob, a young Labour member and Unite rep at Barclays bank, told Socialist Worker, “Jeremy Corbyn just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, and we just need to keep engaging with people.”
Others wanted more action. Chris, another Corbyn supporter, said, “We need more direct action.
“Listening to the speeches, they were great. But we’ve been ready to smash neoliberalism for a long time. We just need for everybody to get energised.”
And Phil, who came from south Yorkshire with his GMB union branch said, “We’ve got to look at industrial action—a general strike or whatever you want to call it.
“The government wants to disempower the trade unions, they’ve made it harder to strike. If we were in France, what would we be doing? Compare ourselves with European trade unions who protest and put up barricades in the street.”
There were cheers when Terry Pullinger of the CWU union promised, “By the end of the year we will see postal workers standing up and fighting”. CWU members face attacks on their pensions and conditions in Royal Mail.
There was anger over public sector pay. Mental health worker Bri told Socialist Worker, "I've had my wages cut and my hours took off me. The Tories say there's no money for the teachers or public services. But they've got a billion pounds to keep themselves in a job."
Clare Williams of the Unison union announced the launch of a fresh pay campaign for public sector workers. But she didn’t bother to mention the Durham teaching assistants in her own union who are fighting against an attack on their pay.
The attack comes from a Labour-run council. Everyone should back their struggle against that council.
Film director Ken Loach said, “We need the fighting spirit of the teaching assistants here” to beat the Tories. “They need a settlement where no one loses wages, conditions or jobs,” he said.
He added, “We need union leaders who will not just talk left but act left.”
But it’s also up to rank and file activists to build on the fresh mood for a fight. Trade union activists at the Gala told Socialist Worker that the general election campaign had changed the mood among ordinary union members.
Denyze Harris from Unite told Socialist Worker, “Before the election people at work were saying to me that they had voted Labour all their lives but this time they wouldn’t.
“Something Jeremy Corbyn did changed their minds. He got out there and campaigned and showed people that he meant what he said.”
And Terry Johnston from Unison said, “There’s hope among our members since the general election. People are feeling that there’s support for them now—like there’s a real possibility of fighting”.