Good morning and thank you very much for inviting me to speak today at the annual David Jones and Joe Green Memorial Lecture.
I was elected to Parliament just a year ago and the first official engagement I undertook as a new MP was to attend this lecture so I am honoured to have been asked to perform this task and it is not one that I take lightly.
The history of the National Union of Mineworkers, both here in Barnsley, and on a national level, is both important and interesting, including the history of this Miners' Office, built in 1874, one hundred and thirty-eight years ago.
Beginning in the eighteenth century, the fight to create decent, safe conditions for mineworkers took many, many years – not forgetting that in the 18th and 19th centuries, those mineworkers included women and young children.
It was not, however, the last fight they would have to take on, to protect the rights of those who worked underground.
The death toll among miners was extraordinary, with individual disasters claiming hundreds of lives. The only way to improve conditions was through collective action and mass representation.
In addition, miners had also fought for a decent wage and of course, recent history and the memories of many people here today, will bear testament to the fight that miners across the country had to take on in 1984 and ‘85, in order to protect their welfare.
Miners stood shoulder to shoulder and fought, they did not roll over and fall at the first hurdle, they withstood severe hardship and poverty, in order to stand up for the principles that were ingrained in their hearts.
By contrast, the determination of the Conservative Government, to beat the miners and the NUM into submission, saw some of the most shocking tactics ever witnessed on picket lines.
Protesting mineworkers, their families and supporters were treated like the enemy, and in fact were described by Thatcher as “the enemy within.”
They were dealt with by brutal force and all too often, violence. The statistics are horrifying, eleven thousand miners were arrested, there were thousands injured...
and of course, tragically – there were deaths.
In 1984, David Jones and Joe Green both died on picket lines, during the strike
David was killed at Ollerton in Nottinghamshire, during fighting between the police, pickets and non-striking miners.
And Joe was killed whilst picketing at Ferrybridge C Power Station in Yorkshire.
At just 24, David was a member of the NUM, Ackton Hall Branch.
He was killed on 15th March 1984 just after the strike started.
Here was a young man, with his whole life ahead of him, standing up for what he believed in, and never expecting that it would cost him so dearly.
Joe Green was 50 and a member at Kellingley Branch. Joe was killed by a lorry at Ferrybridge C Power Station in Yorkshire on 15th June 1984.
After the strike, a march was held, originally at South Elmsall and later in Barnsley town centre.
Eventually it became this memorial lecture and wreath laying ceremony and it is thanks to the Yorkshire Area Officials and members of the Yorkshire Area Council, who through hard work and dedication ensure that year after year and here today, we gather to honour the memories of David and Joe.
They are a symbol of the fight that was fought so bravely by miners across the country. They are martyrs to the cause and by honouring them in this way, we will make certain they, and the sacrifice they paid, are never forgotten,
I believe it is highly appropriate that the NUM holds this memorial lecture in memory of these two men.
Before I continue, there are some members of the audience that I would like to welcome at this point.
I know we have David Jones’ Father and other members of his family here with us today and we are honoured by their presence.
I am also delighted to welcome former NUM President and now my colleague and friend from parliament, Ian Lavery MP.
Ian has rarely missed this memorial lecture – he is a fine advocate of the Labour movement – both in Westminster and Nationally, and at time when many people are rightly concerned that politicians don't have credible professional backgrounds and are removed from the realities of working people's lives – it is great that Ian is in parliament standing up for them; fighting the corner of ordinary people.
I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain.
I remember what a terrible place it was; the rich in the South getting richer, at the expense of people like the mineworkers in Yorkshire and, of course in other areas, including Wales.
I have often heard it described as the government declaring civil war on its own people, cutting off their income and forcing them to give in due to near starvation and poverty.
It was a government that wielded its power and would make sure they won at any cost. This was not just about workers rights; this was about the civil rights of the people in coalfield communities.
Communities that depended on the pit for the local economy to thrive.
We have all seen the decimation of the coalfield communities, as a direct result of that government’s policies and actions. The physical evidence is still apparent in many cases
BUT it is the less visible damage that has been the most devastating, the drawing of battle-lines, desperation and living day to day, just trying to survive.
In Barnsley we still bear the scars, some of them will linger for generations to come, no matter how much regeneration and investment is brought in to help the economic recovery of areas such as Grimethorpe, where there is still an enormous reserve of coal under the ground.
All former miners are aware of that coal, under their feet every day, as they reflect on what has gone by, how they were let and VICTIMISED by a Government hell-bent on demonstrating their power over the unions.
One thing I do know is that mining communities are incredibly resilient. The community spirit in the former minefield areas is among the strongest I have ever known.
This is borne out of the principles of people working and sticking together.
The camaraderie these men had developed underground, when they knew their lives could be in one another’s hands, transcended from the confines of the pit below to the community above.
Miners and their families were united in the struggle. They supported one another through the toughest of times, sharing their meagre resources and doing it all in the steadfast belief that they were stronger when united, more formidable when as one, than they could ever be if they fought alone.
But perhaps among the most formidable groups in the struggle were the inspirational women of Barnsley and Women Against Pit Closures.
Woman Against Pit Closures began in Barnsley. It was an incredible collective of women who were determined to fight and support all who were struggling as a result of the strike.
The role they played in the Miners’ Strike cannot be underestimated – the strike simply could not have continued without their support.
I pay tribute to the work they did then and today, as they continue to support workers in dispute.
Throughout the dark times of the strike, the miners and their families knew that standing behind them, supporting them and “having their backs” was their union, the National Union of Mineworkers.
Now, the importance of trade unions cannot be underestimated and they are just as important and relevant today, as ever before.
Even though, as a country, we have moved on in so many ways – today, we still have a government that is made up of uber-rich, privileged, public school-boys, who always believed that ruling was their birthright.
It is almost a mirror image of the governments prior to the 19th Century, when nobility was a pre-requisite of holding elected office.
The fact is, we now have a Cabinet that is dominated by the very wealthy and privileged, and it is they who are making decisions that dictate the economy and the quality of life for the majority of working people in the country.
Only recently, we have seen the lack of respect this government has for those who dedicate their lives to public service. Slashing budgets to local authorities and Threatening the jobs and livelihoods of those who are employed in the public sector;
Attacking the pensions of public sector workers, expecting them to pay more, for longer, to receive less.
The Conservative Government is doing a sterling job of, once again, ~ drawing battle-lines in the sand,
~ pitching the private sector against the public sector,
~ trying to weaken support and demonise those who work hard to provide us with our public services.
It is the Trade Unions that are standing up to the Government, in light of these cuts.
It is the Trade Unions that are opposing the cuts, marching on parliament and banging the drum for the rights of public sector workers.
Historically, as a party, Labour has always enjoyed the support of the Trade Unions. The Labour party was borne out of the values of the Trade Union Movement and I believe, we must never forget those roots, but we must live in the present.
We must understand that the challenges faced by the modern workforce are very different, not just to those of many years ago, but also very different from those of more recent years.
Our public services still need the Nurses, Bin men, Fire-fighters, Cleaners, Police Officers, Teachers and Carers, to name but a few, BUT our large-scale, nationalised industries, were broken up, sold off or bought in from overseas. What remains of them is in private hands.
Today, there are just fifteen underground coal mines in the UK. Of those, only four are in Yorkshire. In Doncaster, Kirklees, North Yorkshire and Rotherham, Yorkshire Miners still hew the coal from the depths of the earth. It is vital that we support them –
Yorkshire’s last remaining pits and miners.
I should add at this point that as Shadow Culture Minister, I am very proud to have the National Mining Museum in Yorkshire, at the former Caphouse Colliery near Wakefield.
I believe it is vital to keep our mining heritage alive and for future generations to learn and understand the enormous impact that coal mining had on communities. The National Coal Mining Museum does that and the Experience Barnsley museum will do that here by the end of this year.
Most of today’s jobs are far removed from those historic industries, but the workers who answer our enquiries in vast call centres, who keep the financial services in operation, who design websites and do the jobs that are now necessary in the increasingly online world we operate in; these workers still need, and deserve, representation.
They need someone who will ensure their welfare and safety in the workplace; to make sure they are being treated fairly and being paid a proper living wage.
Even though the world and our industries have changed, I believe the Trade Unions are as valuable and essential a part of our constitution as ever.
The link between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions remains an important part of our constitution and I am completely in support of it.
I believe we should strengthen this link, ensuring Labour truly are the voice of hard working people in parliament.
It is vital that right now, when union members are being attacked by the government, having their jobs and pensions threatened, that the Labour party must support them.
David Cameron and his Conservative-led Government is championing the private sector, even suggesting that when they have finished decimating the public sector, so there are no jobs, the private sector will gallop up, like some knight in shining armour, ready to magically create jobs and industry.
The reality is, as we all know too well, this will not happen in areas like Barnsley.
We have to be strategic in planning how we attract inward investment and large-scale employers to the area. We have to have organisations like the Barnsley Development Agency, working to help local businesses thrive and negotiating with developers and government departments for investment that will attract new businesses to grow and expand our commercial offer.
We have recently seen huge investment in education and skills training in Barnsley.
In the face of severe challenges, the council managed to deliver the last Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, without the loss of a single new school build.
This was an incredible achievement. We have also seen the outstanding Barnsley College develop its sites and increase the number of courses it is able to offer.
This means that young people in Barnsley are able to access, in my opinion, some of the best learning facilities in the country.
when our young people achieve,
when they dare to aspire,
we must be there to support them and help them to realise their full potential.
Nothing is off-limits to anyone, because they are from Barnsley.
I will always argue fiercely, with anyone who dares to suggest that anything that is below par is “good enough for Barnsley.”
It is an attitude that has prevailed in some quarters and one that we must all challenge and stamp out.
Only the best is good enough for Barnsley and if that means we must face up to and fight a government that tries to “put us in our place”, then let me tell you, I am ready to do it and I know you are too.
This was part of my motivation with the ‘Proud of Barnsley’ programme.
I am incredibly proud of our town and its people, and I want everyone who lives in Barnsley or, who is from Barnsley to be able to say that with conviction.
There is an awful lot for us to be proud of in our town, and around the borough. AND we must make certain that, not only do we tell the rest of the country just how good it is here, but that everyone who lives in Barnsley knows it too.
The most serious issue we are facing now though, is one of rising unemployment.
Under a Conservative Government, the number of people who are out of work rises, this is an historical fact.
Unemployment has always been a price worth paying for the Tories but at least Norman Lamont was honest about it.
George Osborne is far more devious; he is trying to convince us that people do not want jobs; they would rather live a life on benefits, because it is a life of Riley, their own choice.
Let us make one thing clear – a life on benefits is not the easy choice. Despite what the Daily Mail would have its readers believe!
From a personal perspective and coming from a career that began with serving in the Army, I have always recognised the importance of public service, and there are many different ways in which this is achieved.
I have already mentioned the nurses, bin men and emergency services that work to keep our streets clean and safe and look after our health and well-being. All of these public servants deserve our respect. Yet they do not always get it. Especially not from the Coalition, who seem to be digging a hole for themselves, deeper than any miner ever did!
It wasn’t always the case that public service was treated with such a lack of respect by the government, as it is today.
The many forms of public service were recognised by previous governments, this was especially true during the Second World War. Someone I know explained to me that his two Grandfathers both served their country during the War; one in the sands of North Africa and one underground in South Yorkshire.
This is a particularly good comparison of the level of respect miners had. Everyone knew it was an incredibly hard job with immense dangers and, as we now know, with a long-term risk to health.
When I was thinking about this lecture, it became apparent to me that there are many similarities between the camaraderie that exists between soldiers on active service and that which is so evident among coal miners.
They experience a shared hardship, a common goal; they depend on one another and know that ultimately, their lives can lie in one another’s hands.
They are both public servants, yet their work is not carried out in a public arena. Whether in the deserts of Africa or the pitch black tunnels underground, they worked for the people of the UK.
This week five of those serving their country in Afghanistan; members of Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, were tragically killed. All were young men, Corporal Jake Hartley aged 20, Private Anthony Frampton, also 20, Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all from Huddersfield; Private Christopher Kershaw, aged 20 and from Bradford; and Private Daniel Wade, 20, from Warrington. Alongside them, Sgt Nigel Coupe, of the First Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment was also killed.
Another six lives, taking the total number of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan to over four hundred. May they all Rest in Peace.
Coal was one of our national industries, like the railways, it was sold off for the economic benefit, not of the country or the communities, but for a minority of wealthy individuals.
The Tory Government privatised our greatest assets. Isn’t it ironic - had they been overseas territories, we would have fought to keep them, but because they were here, on our own soil, we sold them, with no guarantees that they would even stay in British hands.
Now, we are facing a global energy crisis, with fuel costs rising to unprecedented levels and a third of our pensioners in fuel poverty, while under our feet, there is still coal.
To me it seems a disgrace that we have 300 years of coal reserves beneath our feet, yet we only produce 18 million tonnes of coal, and we import 26.5 million tonnes from overseas.
Whilst we all now should accept that coal must be burned cleanly, all over the world, coal production is increasing and coal consumption is increasing.
We are being left behind, as countries such as China plans to increase its coal production to nearly 4 billion tonnes by 2020.
In 2010, Coal still produced 28% of the nation’s electricity and at peak times, it has provided 50%.
The UK was blessed with an incredible resource that we cannot access or make use of and that would have a huge impact on our economy. If we looked to better exploit those reserves, we would create thousands of jobs.
We would also be able to play an active part in the development of clean coal technology, actively helping to reduce CO2 emission levels.
What it comes down to is that coal is what Barnsley was built on.
A community built on coal, that brought families together, gave them homes, jobs and livelihoods.
Barnsley is a different place now, but we must be proud of our history, proud of our mining heritage and proud of the people who fought over the years to keep this town alive.
May the memories of David Jones and Joe Green live on.
I pay tribute to them; to their families
and to all who built this town from the depths of its pits and to all who continue to work to make it the town it is, and will be,
they are a huge part of the reason that I am proud to call Barnsley my home.