The 137th Big Meeting takes place at a time of industrial struggle. Stephen Guy, chair of the DMA said “We are proud to dedicate the 2023 Gala to all workers in struggle and to those organising to defend their communities from the policies of this cruel and incompetent government.”
The Miners’ Gala is a celebration of working class culture and values, which include fighting for economic and social justice here in the North East and internationally.
Miners were implacable fighters against fascism between wars and during WW11. The famous Follonsby red banner includes James Connolly, the Irish socialist and one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.
The banner of South Hetton Lodge reads, ‘Lest we forget those who went before us’. The Gala has a proud record of internationalism. Before the downfall of the racist apartheid system in South Africa, when the majority black population was treated like slaves and denied the vote, a delegation of South African miners spent three weeks with the families of Durham miners.
In 2004, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid, Lindiwe Mabuza, South Africa’s High Commissioner in London, spoke at the Big Meeting.
In the past Big Meeting speakers have included Carlos Barrios Contrera and Carlos Bugueno Alfara, two Chilean survivors of the Copiapó mining collapse; two more striking Asturian miners; delegations from Venezuela and Cuba; and Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, two of the unjustly imprisoned Miami Five.
So, it is fitting to appeal to the thousands of trade unionists and working class people attending the Gala this year to recognise the suffering of and show solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia.
Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia
A great North East institution, Newcastle United Football Club is owned by one of the bloodiest dictatorships on the planet. Saudi women live under the repressive ‘Guardianship’ system. Mother of five, Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani and Salma al-Shehab have been jailed for 45 and 27 years, simply for tweeting in favour of women’s rights.
Since the takeover of Newcastle United repression in Saudi Arabia has actually increased. On the day before Newcastle played Chelsea on 12 March 2022, Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered the execution of 81 men. There are reports that the Saudi regime may be about to execute nine young men convicted of crimes ‘committed’ when they were still children, which is illegal under international law. There are countless other cases of unjust imprisonment, torture, and the ongoing persecution of the Saudi LGBTQI+ community.
It has recently been announced that the Saudi government plans to hold an international friendly against Mexico at Saint James’ Park in September. If the match goes ahead the club and by extension our region will be nothing more than a billboard for one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
A tiny minority of Newcastle fans, taking their cue from Saudi trolls, directed from the regime’s bot farm in Riyadh claim that any fan who calls out the regime which owns NUFC for their gross human rights abuses, ‘must be a Sunderland fan!’ As if Sunderland fans are the only people in the North East to care about human rights!
How little do they know about our culture. Many football fans are also trade unionists. Newcastle and Sunderland fans stood together on the picket lines during the miner’s strike in 1984/85 and today in defence of the NHS and Railways.
In that spirit we appeal to those attending this year’s Big Meeting and the platform speakers too, to show international solidarity with the victims of the regime which owns Newcastle United. Join us in saying, “Stop the Slaughter” and “Free Saudi Women”.
John Hird – Founder NUFC Fans Against Sportswashing
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