I come from a mining area and in the past year it has been my pleasure to make connections with the former miners and their trade union representatives in the North East of England.
This came to be after I invited Durham miners secretary Davy Hopper to come be interviewed on a live comedy panel show I do at The stand Comedy club Newcastle called Sod the Tories and have a nice week. you can follow our Facebook page here…
On the night Davy presented us with an inspirational talk that moved some of the audience to tears while others gave him a standing ovation. As I mentioned it’s been my pleasure to get to know him and his comrades, he’s a remarkable man, with a great wit and a heart the size of a small planet. I’ve also come to learn not just of the driven activist he was during the miners strike but how he and others have maintained a stunning link with local communities that is active and representative of peoples needs as it was during that turbulent year.
Yesterday I was invited to speak after a commemorative service to celebrate 150 years of trade unionism since the death of Thomas Hepburn. I was expecting to turn up to a well attended but smaller event than what I walked into.
St. Marys church in Heworth was full to capacity. The mayors and other gentry were in full attendance from all local cities as were a couple of hundred trade unionist and political editor of the Daily Mirror Kevin Maguire. It was a great service and Kevin gave a stunning speech referencing the exploitation of child labour that existed in the pits of the time with the current problems we still have with child labour and exploitative employers now 150 years later.
After the service we headed to a workers club and I did my turn as comedian for the afternoon. I had to work a wee bit but I’ll take pulling the audience up to three rounds of applause as a win. During my set a bit chatter started and somebody pointed out it was the mayor, to which I remarked “fuck the mayor” much to the audiences delight and his general chagrin…I’ll take that as a win as well.
Sadly I had to leave early to attend a work commitment. I could happily spend a fortnight sitting drinking and talking with these great folk.
During the day it was discussed as to why my comedy has taken this more political direction and my affinity with miners in general. As mentioned I am from these areas. Earlier this year I was asked into a debate on BBC radio asking the question “isn’t it time we let the miners strike be a thing of the past.” …Never was my answer.
If we had won the miners strike workers in this country wouldn’t be in the mess we are now. When was the last time you had a decent holiday? Yes it’s been a while for many of us. Economic inequality has grown more in the past 30 years in the UK than in any other country on the PLANET! (I got that wee fact off Wikipedia.)
But there’s another reason I’ll never forget. I had a cousin Michael. He was among the most gentle, mannered and decent of people. During the miners strike he was found to be secondary picketing and was blacklisted. During the 80s if you were a blacklisted miner that meant you would not get work. He spent a very long period unemployed. While on the dole he took up a days work on the side picking potatoes for a local farmer. I imagine he probably worked a full day for a pittance. Some money to get some food perhaps. you can argue the rights or wrong but what was done to him next was inhuman. He was discovered working had all benefits stopped (remember he was seeking work but wouldn’t be employed) and was put on the street…homeless. after a period he took his own life. I’m crying now just thinking of him. He was a lovely man.
So if you’re ever asked “shouldn’t we just forget the strike and move on?” Please don’t. If for nothing else at least for the memory of my cousin.
There’s a new film titled Still the Enemy Within screening at the Tyneside cinema on Oct 22nd. I urge you to see it if you get the chance.