THE second Saturday of July holds a special place in my heart, as it does for everyone across our mining communities and labour movement.

Since the Gala’s inception over 150 years ago, the famous banners, procession and brass band have only been absent during the two World Wars and strikes in the 1920s.

We cannot be together today, but the values of unity, solidarity and collective strength that are embodied by the Durham Miners’ Gala are as important and relevant now as they ever were.

It is these values that are helping us to get through this crisis, from our NHS and social care workers putting their lives on the line to keep us safe to the volunteer mutual aid groups and support networks on every street and across every village, town and city in the country.

This week we witnessed the disgraceful spectacle of the Prime Minister desperately trying to shift the blame for the failures of his own government to our hard-working social care staff.

The Government’s guidance saw thousands of elderly people discharged from hospitals to care homes without coronavirus tests and the government’s failings left social care staff without the protective equipment or the access to testing that they need.

The clapping by the Prime Minister and Tory Ministers that became a feature of our Thursday evenings will ring hollow now the government is trying to blame to the very people who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much throughout this crisis.

The Labour Party will never scapegoat our social care and NHS heroes or any of the key workers who have risked their lives to help get our country through this crisis.

Our NHS is the jewel in our country’s crown and our NHS heroes are our greatest asset.

We cannot clap for them and then fail to take meaningful action.

The government needs to immediately commit to a pay rise for our NHS staff.

It is the least they deserve after what they have done for all of us.

I want to pay tribute to all of the key workers who are working to support our communities, and I want to say a particular thank you to the women who have been working to get us through this crisis.

I am proud that at the 2018 Durham Miners’ Gala we unveiled a new banner recognising the contribution of women in our trade unions and in supporting our mining communities.

Today, four in five key workers in health and social care are women, so the lack of PPE and low pay in the care sector are issues that disproportionately affects women.

Female workers and workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be key workers on the front line, and coronavirus is having a shockingly disproportionate impact on black Britons in particular.

So fighting for our class means standing up for the working class in all its diversity.

I came of age in our trade union movement, which is my I feel such a close affinity with the Gala.

As a care worker on poverty pay and a zero hours contract I organised with my union and my work mates for better pay and working conditions.

It taught me the power that we have when we stand together.

Together, we are strong.

And in the months ahead we will need our collective strength as we fight to save jobs, protect our communities and ensure the most vulnerable in our society don’t bear the burden of the economic impact of coronavirus.

Our mining communities know about the human cost of mass unemployment.

We know how it feels to be abandoned by a Tory government and for entire generations to be consigned to what the Thatcher government called “managed decline”.

We cannot let that happen again.

The North-South divide is continuing to grow, and we cannot afford for the economic impact of coronavirus to increase this gap even more.

The Tories talk a good game on this issue but their record of turning their backs on the north speaks for itself.

The past we inherit, the future we build.

The Durham Miners Gala is the world’s biggest and best celebration of working class history, culture and our communities.

But it is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the challenges we face today.

What we needed this week was a back to work budget focused on saving and sustaining jobs in the hardest-hit sector of our economy and creating decent, well-paid jobs.

We cannot allow the furlough scheme to become a halfway house to redundancy and mass unemployment, with all the lasting damage that this would do to families and communities.

The Labour Party will always fight to protect jobs and to defend our communities.

We will fight to make sure that every worker is safe at work and that our key workers get the pay and recognition they deserve.

That is our promise to you until we can hopefully meet again at the Gala next year, in its 150th anniversary year.