If you’re passing through Wakefield on the train this Saturday morning, pause, and look out towards the city centre. You’ll be greeted by the sight of tens of dozens of banners bright, in every shape and hue.
You’ll see something like a scene out of Pride, with banners rising from the ground to sit proudly on the shoulders of old miners, young women, and everyone in between.
Take a moment to read the painted words and the stitched images leaping boldly from the fabric; “united we stand, divided we fall,” “an injury to one is an injury to all,” “united we bargain, divided we beg.”
Crane your neck if you still have enough time, to see the brass band of young performers, and the samba band of old die hards, strike up, as this unusual crowd of hundreds of people, stirs and marches forward into the centre of Wakefield.
You’ve just seen a snapshot of Yorkshire culture at its proudest.
We trade unionists may seem strange to some. But our habits, culture, and ways of thinking have evolved out of two centuries of fighting for workers’ rights.
This march is the start of With Banners Held High, a festival of trade union and working class Yorkshire culture, that is in its fifth year.
What started as a tribute to the pitmen of the 1984-85 miners’ strike, has grown into a large, free, outdoor community festival celebrating the special place trade unions hold in our county’s heritage. And this year we are reflecting on a trio of anniversaries: Orgreave, Kellingley, and the First World War.
As National Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), this is deeply important to me. We must remember where we come from, as we struggle for a fairer society.
2019 marks the 35th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave, a state orchestrated riot against what was intended to be a peaceful picket, at the height of the Miners’ strike. As one of those striking miners that was there on that day I can say without doubt that there was no intention on behalf of the pickets to hold a violent picket, we were there in large numbers as a show of solidarity. We did not go armed with truncheons wearing body armour and helmets with riot shields to hide behind.
Communities across West, North and South Yorkshire bore the brunt of this state sanctioned violence, and the name Orgreave leaves a potent and bitter taste in the mouths of people across our county not least because while the Battle of Orgreave was well documented and recorded the same police tactics on a smaller scale were happening on picket lines up and down the country.
We still have seen no justice for the immeasurable pain caused to the families and victims there that day.
But at With Banners Held High we will honour their memory, as we march through the streets of Wakefield. With our banners held high and Yorkshire brass playing, we will ensure that the memory of that outrage stays alive.
This festival will be an important opportunity to keep the memory of Orgreave alive for our children, and use it as the burning injustice to fuel the next generation’s fight for social justice. Because in essence, that is what we as trade unions do – fight for a fairer world. There will be no peace until we have our justice.
As I march with the NUM’s banner this Saturday, I will also reflect on a personal tragedy – the closure over three years ago of Kellingley colliery, Britain’s last former British Coal deep coal mine, where I worked for 20 years. It was heartbreaking being at the pit on Friday 18 December 2015 on the last shift worked at Kellingley and seeing workmates that I had worked beside for 20 years holding back the tears for the end of an industry. An industry that many had worked in since leaving school and was the only job they had ever done or wanted to do.
The loss of an industry that was invested in the villages, families, sports and socials of that community is something that is hard to see reflected now in the gig economy companies of 2019.
We also stand a full one hundred years after the end of the First World War. We were promised a Land Fit For Heroes. But I don’t see that in the zero hours contract grind of today’s world of work.
The world of work is changing, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for zero hours contracts, hollowed out communities, and poverty pay.
The point of With Banners Held High is to remind people what it feels like to stand together, as a community, and believe in something better. Working together to make things better is trade unions’ bread and butter, and if you join us, we can give you the power to make things better for you too.
You can find out how to join a union on the TUC’s website: www.tuc.org.uk/join-union
But if that’s not for you just yet, then don’t worry. This festival is for everyone, to celebrate our culture and remember our history.
And let me tell you, if you want to feel a swelling in your heart and a tear in the eye like watching the end of Pride, there’s no better place to be than with us this Saturday in Wakefield. So why not join us for With Banners Held High? We march from Westgate station at 11am.
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