Today I will be speaking at the 128th Durham Miners’ Gala, a profound and moving event that continues to attract crowds in the tens of thousands and keeps the spirit of working class solidarity and unity alive.
I will be saying that it has never been more important for the labour movement to be united than in these extraordinary times in which we are living.
Youth unemployment is the highest on record, tens of billions of pounds of public spending is being cut – including massive job cuts, a public sector pay freeze and attacks on pensions – and unemployed and disabled people are receiving unparalleled abuse.
We have to be united to oppose this most vicious attack on everything our movement stands for: protecting the most vulnerable; providing decent jobs for all who can work, and a decent standard of living for those that cannot; providing decent public services that serve the public good, not private profit; and defending working class communities through strong trade unions and community organisations.
That unity is built around opposing this Tory-led government’s attacks on the people we represent.
So when they force people into strike action, we back those brave men and women out on strike – whether over public sector pensions, whether it’s cleaners, Remploy workers or the heroic Spanish miners.
In the 1980s, miners in the north east and elsewhere struggled heroically for jobs and justice. Their opponents were a Tory government and the Murdoch press.
Thanks to the campaigning MP Tom Watson – with whom I will be sharing a platform at Durham – and others, we’ve taken a chunk out of the Murdoch empire.
Now we need to do the same to this Tory government – a government that last year gave us lower growth and a sharper increase in unemployment than in the Eurozone.
This is no time for prevarication. When they’re dismantling the welfare state, we oppose them. When they’re forcing families out of their homes through housing benefit cuts, we oppose them. When they freeze pay and try to introduce poverty pay in the regions, we oppose them.
Bob Diamond walked away last week with a £2m pay off – more than 30,000 times what the 2.6m people on the dole will get this week.
The financial crisis which began in the boardrooms and in the stock exchanges is being paid for by those in the care homes and on the dole queues.
Cuts, austerity, call it what you like. It is the wrong solution. Wrong because it isn’t working, it is damaging our economy, and wrong because of the misery it is causing in our communities.
The gala shows the labour movement at our best, and I welcome Ed Miliband’s decision to speak this year. We have to take the spirit of Durham across the country.
We must be united: in our trade unions, in our communities, in our town halls and in parliament. We must be united and we must fight these cuts every inch of the way.
Mark Serwotka is general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union