Mike Hill: Hartlepool's dignity and pride needs to be restored
This Saturday I will be proudly marching with the Hartlepool Trades Council banner in the greatest celebration of Trade Unionism and the Labour movement in the Country; the Durham Miners Gala.
Apart from being a marvellous day out, it truly is a unique blend of tradition, history, politics and fun. This year the ‘big meeting’ as it is known is in its 135th year. All praise must go to the Durham Miners' Association for their hard work in keeping the Gala going, especially through the dark times of pit closures and the decimation of our mining communities. The Gala is the greatest coming together of like-minded people I have ever experienced.
The coal mines may have closed and been replaced by sites like the Dalton Park shopping outlet or Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light but all of that is within living memory; the people of the pit villages will never forget the trauma inflicted on them by the ideological destruction of the industry by the Thatcher Government in the 1980s.
Fast forward to 2016 and the failure by the Government to rescue steel manufacturing in Redcar; a 99-year-old business with 2,066 direct employees. In one stroke almost our ability as a nation to not only produce the world renowned manufacturing raw materials which built the likes of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but our entire steel manufacturing base is now at risk; the current crisis in the hedge fund-owned and deceptively named ‘British Steel’ has led to calls for Government intervention, with little joy so far despite. The link between the closure of the coal mines and steel production should be obvious but in case it’s not then consider this. In the 1980s the Government imported coal from Russia after they had destroyed our own coal industry in order to cope with demand. Kill off our ability to create our own steel and we are left at the mercy of other countries.
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In Hartlepool we have never had coal mines; we’ve got Sea Coaler’s who drive onto our beaches at low tide to scoop up washed up coal from the Durham pits. We had ship building, which sadly went the way of other major industries but we’ve lost our sense of direction and purpose as a town in desperate need to rejuvenate, regenerate and rebuild our traditional skills and jobs base.
Wrapped around our town are industry award-winning, multi-million pound industrial leaders like Able UK, EDF Energy, Heerema, Liberty and Tata Steel and Seymour Engineering. All contributing to the local economy and each helping put Hartlepool on the map. But in all honesty their success means nothing morally if they are not recruiting Hartlepool people to work in their businesses and skill up the next generation. S ome have grasped the nettle, but the bottom line is that you can’t expect pride, dignity and a sense of purpose to be restored to our people and our great communities until it becomes the norm that they do.