Brian Parkin remembers Davey Hopper, president of the Durham Miners, who died suddenly of a heart attack on 16 July aged 73 at his home in East Boldon, the Durham pit village of his birth.
Davey was a militant lodge delegate at Monkwearmouth colliery during the 1984-85 miners strike and rose to be an area official after a bitter fight against the more ‘moderate’ official leadership in the strikes aftermath.
Lacking the guile of many other union officials, solidarity, rather than striking slick deals, was his instinct. A first task he set himself after the strike was to fight for the reinstatement of victimised miners as well as making sure that their families were cared for. Another responsibility he undertook with relish was to ensure that despite North East pit closures, the Durham Miners Gala would become a national focus and festival for militant trade unionism, socialism, resistance and internationalism.
As a mere research officer required to observe and ‘gopher’ NUM National Executive meetings, I can recall his mischievous and irreverent humour often punctuating the usually austere proceedings chaired by an earnest and disapproving national president Arthur Scargill. At such times I would almost hate Davey for requiring me to undergo the physical torture of keeping a straight face.
I know from speaking with Davey on numerous occasions the long road he had to travel in order to overcome some of the more ‘traditional’ prejudices and negative attitudes regarding women and the LGBT community – attitudes completely overturned by the solidarity experience of the long strike.
Regarding racism, Davey Hopper, (quoting from, I think a scene in a film set in a Welsh mining valley and starring Paul Robeson), said when faced with some some racist hostility against a donation to a South African miners strike, “You daft bastard. Underground we’re all ****ing black! And we’re all being screwed the same”.
Like all of us, Davey has his weaknesses- most notably his fanatical and unconditional support for Sunderland football club and the occasional flutter on the dogs. Over the years, he came to despair of the Blair Labour Party – particularly over the Iraq war but also for its denial of solidarity and the lack of instinctive support for workers in struggle. It was for this reason, that he made the Durham Miners gala a test of nerves for any Labour politician who might prove less than resolute in their commitment to class struggle. In which case, his role as president would ensure the full roar of disapproval from the crowd.
And last year, although with three months to go in the Labour Party leadership election, he had no hesitation in inviting Jeremy Corbyn to address the biggest Durham Miners gala ever.
Rest now comrade. Your irascible spirit will live on in miners galas to come.