It’s 8:30 a.m. this Saturday, July 8, and the air already smells of fried bacon. After strolling through the alleys of the old town, the first marching bands and banners arrive on the racetrack of Durham, the capital of the black British country, in the northeast of England. Impeccably dressed, the musicians, men and women, mouth their tubas, trombones and flugelhorns and sing Gresford, the hymn to the dead miners at the bottom of the mine, a slow and moving march.
Then the carriers of the banners will arrange them along the palisades surrounding the enormous green space. Taking their first beers of the day out of the coolers, they settle down at the foot of these large sections of painted fabric representing the different “lodges” (lodges), or branches (one per mine), of the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), the miners’ union in County Durham. Until the end of the morning, this ritual of arrival on the racetrack will be repeated, until the space is saturated with sounds, colors and families of former miners.
All participate in the 137e Gala, the great annual party of the British blackmouths. The tradition, started by the DMA in 1871, when nearly 200,000 people (including women and children) worked in the bowels of the county, has continued, although the mines have all closed (the last in 1994). The Big Meeting, as it is also called, has become a huge festival of unions, all trades combined. A must for British militancy, between political rally and celebration of popular culture.
This 137e edition is a bit special for the tens of thousands of teachers, railway workers or postmen who converged in this medieval city dominated by a huge Norman cathedral. They have been on strike for a year for better pay, without much success so far.
On the racetrack, Paul Nowak, leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British Federation of Trade Unions, wants to believe that after years of eclipse, “the unions are back”. And to roll out his list of demands for a probable future Labor government in the general election of 2024, the Conservatives in power for thirteen years breaking records of unpopularity. “ Keir Starmer [le chef de file du Labour] must abolish the new minimum service law [limitant le droit de grève] or zero-hour employment contracts [le salarié peut être licencié à tout moment] », lists the head of the TUC.
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