UNION boss Bob Crow has urged trade unionists to break their ties with Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and create one that “speaks for working people”.
The RMT general secretary used Saturday’s Durham Miners’ Gala to accuse the Labour leader of showing contempt for the unions and “dancing to the tune of Tony Blair”, following plans to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party.
Thousands of people attended the 129th Big Meeting at the city’s racecourse, with dozens of brass bands entertaining the crowds and a huge parade of lodge banners through the streets.
Although the transport union was expelled from the party in 2004 for allowing Scottish branches to affiliate to other political parties, Mr Crow claimed the shake-up announced last week was an attempt to “hack away at the last remaining shreds of influence held by those who created the party”.
The Gala is one of the country’s most traditional trade union events, and Mr Crow attempted to rally support for a “new party of labour” to take on the “anti-worker” agenda of the three main Westminster political parties.
Last year, Mr Miliband became the first Labour leader in more than two decades to address the gala, but did not attend on Saturday.
Mr Crow said: “The sad truth now is that on the main policy issues like cuts and privatisation, you cannot put a fag paper between Labour and the Liberal-Tory coalition.
“The time for a new party of Labour that fights as hard for the working class as the Tories fight for their class is now.”
Other speakers included Daily Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Frances O’Grady, journalist and author Owen Jones, and the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey.
Comedian and actor Ricky Tomlinson spoke to the crowd on behalf of the Shrewsbury 24 campaign to overturn the convictions of 24 builders – including himself – who were charged following the first ever national building workers’ strike in 1972. For the third year, Silksworth Lodge banner was the first onto the field.
Banner group secretary, Peter Shields, who has attended the Gala for 20 years, led the campaign to have the banner made.
“I’m proud to see it up with all the others of this fantastic day,” he said.
“The event is definitely getting bigger, and it has been brilliant this year – the speakers have all been good.”
Daily Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire said he was proud to be speaking at the gala.
“When Thatcher died this year, there were no crocodile tears in my house,” he said. “It may be warm here today, but it’s a lot hotter where she is.
“The sun’s out, we’re out, let’s get the Tories out.”