This month, a look back at the history of the Durham Miners’ Gala, plus a Cambridge academic’s criticism of free-market capitalism...
The Big Meeting: A History of the Durham Miners’ Gala by David Temple. Hardback, 232 pages, £19.50 + £4 p&p, ISBN 1 901237 38 9. Softback, £14.50 + £3 p&p, ISBN 1 901237 39 7. TUPS Books in partnership with the Durham Miners Association (DMA), 2011. Send cheques/POs made to “Durham Miners’ Gala Book Project” to DMA at PO Box 6, Red Hill, Durham DH1 4BB. Not available in bookshops.
Some events typify the traditions, resilience and pride of the British working class. None more so than the annual gathering of the Durham Miners’ Gala - known locally as ‘The Big Meeting’ - which has stubbornly refused to die, surviving even the deliberate Thatcherite destruction of the local mining industry. At last year’s gala over 100,000 people attended. Centuries of adversity and struggle have forged the rituals of this great working class demonstration and, quite rightly, people are unwilling to let go of it.
Durham Miners’ Gala: the mines may have gone, but the banners and the spirit live on.
In the preface, the Durham Miners’ Association President recalls his childhood, “We came to know the ritual well. The gathering at the welfare hall; the parade through the village; the trip to Durham and the sheer excitement of marching with bands and banners through the narrow crowded streets. On the racecourse we met friends and relations some of whom we only ever saw on gala day. It gave us from an early age a deep sense of belonging and a powerful pride in our community.”
Packed with detail, this book is a terrific, fast-moving account that charts not only the history of the gala since its inception in 1871 but also chronicles the political and industrial struggles of the Durham miners for 140 years. It records the galas warmly and refers instructively to important historic events. The opening chapter for example deals with the first gala on August 12, 1871, yet manages to raise in passing a host of thought-provoking matters – the reason for the birth of the Durham Miners Association in the 1860s, the making of picketing a criminal act in the 1870s, demands for a Mines Inspection Act, the struggle to end the employment of children in the mines. The subsequent five chapters shift the historical story through the intervening decades up to contemporary times.
The later sections of the book profile who were the speakers at every gala, display a selection of historic gala photographs, present a photographic catalogue of the old and new banners of the Durham coalfield, and explain how the communities of the Durham coalfield kept the traditions of the gala alive following the pit closure programme.
There have been 127 Galas so far; the stamina of our class means there will be many more.
23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Ha-Joon Chang, paperback, 286 pages, ISBN 978-0-14104-797-3, Penguin Books, 2011, £9.99.
“We were told to put all our trust in the market and get out of its way; now the global economy lies in tatters….This catastrophe has ultimately been created by the free market ideology that has ruled the world since the 1980s.”
So says Ha-Joon Chang, Reader in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge. One by one, in this very lively and accessible book, Chang destroys the main myths of the free market that has dominated and ruined the world’s economy in recent decades. He calls these myths “Things” and in 23 self-contained, short chapters he tackles the harmful “truths” peddled by free-market ideologues and shows they are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions. Each chapter begins with “What they tell you” and “What they don’t tell you” about each particular myth before going on to supply examples and evidence that demonstrate how the myth is wrong in practice.
Revealing the content of just five of the “Things” gives a flavour of the book’s approach: Thing 1 reveals that “There is no such thing as a free market”; Thing 7 declares “Free market policies rarely make poor countries rich”; Thing 8 emphasises that “Capital has a nationality”; Thing 9 demonstrates “We do not live in a post-industrial age”; Thing 13 points out “Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer”.
“Thing 12: Government can pick winners” illustrates how government can make informed business decisions and pick winners through a good industrial policy. He cites the way the South Korean government in the 1960s and 1970s helped to create new steel and shipbuilding concerns into world leading companies. Without government planning and initiatives, nothing would have happened.
Although Chang believes in capitalism as an economic organiser, his criticism of free-market capitalism is very persuasive and highlights how the market really operates – which is usually the opposite of its claims. There is a better way than reliance on the market and this book formulates some useful ideas. ■