John McDonnell addresses the Burston Rally – photos ©Julian Swainson
On a perfect day for an excursion to the Norfolk countryside hundreds of trade unionists and Labour members and supporters gathered for the annual Burston Strike School Rally. The Rally featured the customary march around the village with music and speeches on the stage on the green just next to the Strike School building. The strike lasted for 25 years and this may explain why Burston has become such an important rallying point for trade unionists.
Musicians including Anto Morra, The Red Flags, Maddy Carty and the First of May Band entertained the rally with a high point being a lively performance from the RMT Brass Band who also led the march.
Speakers included Mick Cash from the RMT Union and comedian Kate Smurthwaite, but the main speaker this year was Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who gave a passionate address setting out his plans for a future Labour Government and his strong support for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
John McDonnell said: ‘I think Jeremy needs a little solidarity at the moment. I have worked with him for forty years and I know no better campaigner against racism – the way he has been abused by the gutter press and others recently is appalling.
Jeremy Corbyn is no Anti-Semite… his own parents met at Cable Street (where they were fighting together with hundreds of other anti-fascists to stop Oswald Mosley marching down the street to intimidate the largely Jewish population there) and they brought him up not just to fight Anti-Semitism and racism in all forms but also to tell the truth – and that’s what he has been doing. When the Palestinians were suffering barbaric attacks from Israel with courage he has stood up and told the truth, and he stood alongside the Jewish community in Israel and the whole world who said exactly the same thing’.
John McDonnell said that on meeting Jonathon Sacks this morning on the Marr programme he urged him, following Sacks vitriolic attacks on Corbyn, to just meet him and understand how he is working for peace with justice for everybody including both Israeli and Palestinian people.
He referred to the talk of splits in the Labour Party, reminding the Rally that the last group to split from Labour, the SDP, helped to keep Margaret Thatcher in power for ten years. He urged MPs who had concerns to come and debate those concerns. He said: ‘You don’t walk away, you argue your case, and just as Jeremy and I have shown, sometimes you win the argument’.
He said Labour was ready for an election at any time and is mobilising to campaign. He quoted Tony Benn’s stipulation that Labour should create an ’irreversible shift in wealth and power to working people’ extending it to include a shift in ownership of business and industry in favour of those who create it, giving workers a right to buy businesses that were put up for sale. His pledge to bring rail, water and energy industries back into public ownership was matched by a pledge to give control of those industries to users and workers and local communities. These promises were met with unanimous applause from the hundreds who attended the rally. He also spoke of restoring the ability of local councils to provide the services people want and the houses that are desperately needed. John McDonnell spoke of the importance of restoring council direct labour organisations to take public service work out of the hand of privatised profiteers.
He spoke of the need to restore democratic control of education and the Labour plan to scrap tuition fees for university students. He made a promise that a Labour Government would create a building
programme to make a million new homes, half of them to be council homes.
Concluding his speech to a standing ovation John McDonnell said: ‘The one thing that we need is unity. Unity is strength’.
John McDonnell gave a speech that was very well received by the large crowd at Burston today, but we are unlikely to see this widely reported in a mainstream media obsessed with the relentless personal attack on Corbyn. The only division in this crowd was on the subject of a popular vote for the final Brexit division, as many Labour supporters favour a second popular vote on the issue. John McDonnell said he did not rule anything out, but said the popular vote needed now was a general election to rid the country of this ‘destructive Tory Government’. Earlier a speaker from Jewish Voice for Labour had made a strong plea to support Jeremy Corbyn and resist the attacks on him from the media and a few loud voices, again receiving strong applause from the rally.
Labour Party membership has rocketed under Jeremy Corbyn to levels unseen for generations, in strong contrast to the Conservative Party where dead members this year raised more funds than the current dwindling live membership. This rally reflected the strength of that grassroots support for the policies and direction of the Corbyn-led Labour Party. The atmosphere at Burston is both progressive and inclusive and inspires activists to redouble their efforts in local communities throughout the region. However this positive message will doubtless receive little or no coverage in the press and TV news today that seems to be focused on the views of those few who see Corbyn as a threat to the exclusive wealth and power that they assume is their right.
© Julian Swainson 2018