UP to 100,000 workers and youth gathered at the 128th Durham Miners Gala on Saturday.
Pride of place on the platform after the march through the city was taken by two representatives of the Spanish miners, whose colleagues and supporters were fired on with rubber bullets in Madrid last week, after the miners had marched 300 miles to the capital to oppose the closure of their pits in the Asturias region.
The speaker who made the most impact was the trade unions legal adviser John Hendy, who has been counsel to the NUM since the 1980s.
‘I want to say about trade union rights,’ said Hendy.
‘It won’t take long, because we have not got many left.
‘I am talking about the right to strike which is today hardly a right at all in the face of the anti-union laws passed under Thatcher.’
He added: ‘Take the right to claim unfair dismissal – the Tories gave us that in 1979. It is a very miserable right.
‘Of those who have won cases against unfair dismissal only 31% have received any compensation at all.
‘At the same time only eight cases out of 49,000 have resulted in re-engagement notices being implemented.
‘But even that,’ he then stressed, ‘is too much for this government.
‘Now they want laws to make workers pay for industrial tribunals to investigate sackings.
‘But what worker, having just been sacked, is going to risk having to pay thousands and thousands of pounds in court fees to finance it?
‘That’s the trouble with “employment rights”. What we need is the right to strike. Collective bargaining without the right to strike is no more than collective begging.’