More than 3,000 people are expected to have turned out for this year’s Burston Strike School Rally - 101 years on from the longest strike in history.
On April 1, 1914, pupils of Burston School marched in support of their two dismissed teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon. Of the 72 pupils, 66 went on strike, and it went on to become the longest in history.
The attendance was no doubt swelled by the appearance North Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn, a regular speaker at the rally for many years, although since being announced as a contender for the Labour leadership earlier this year, his media profile has exploded.
His speech in the main was a last plea for people to support Labour and himself — but he did tell the masses: “I want to say, first of all, a big thank you to all those who have organised this Burston rally, not just today, but for all of the many many years it has been going on.
“They have done a great job, and in doing that job, they help us to understand our own history.
“It gives us an opportunity to come together.
“We have to reclaim to our history. The Higdons stood up for working class children and working class families. They stood up against massive odds, of very powerful land owners, of very powerful Tories on the county council, and they stood up and asked for support. And they got that support. The support came from the mining communities, the railway unions, public service unions and many others to ensure there was money to build the strike school, to ensure that school was supported.
“In doing that, they declared two things; one was solidarity of people in struggle, but they also declared another thing; about the way in which the Labour movement, our movement, values education for learning, not just as a commodity.”
Organisations, unions, groups and representatives from as far as Lowestoft, Coventry, King’s Lynn and Southend were in attendance, including Amnesty International, Norwich Stop The Raw Coalition, ASLEF Train Drivers Union, Unison, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Red Flags opened the morning session with some music, while Megan Dobney, Trades Union Congress (TUC) regional secretary chaired the morning session. The RMT Brass Band also played to the gathering crowd in the morning session, and Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) General Secretary, and Mike Jackson, of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, gave passionate speeches.
The strike march around the village, following the original route of the childrens’ demonstration and led by Unite Regional and Agriculture Sector, accompanied by the NASUWT and RMT Brass Bands, set off shortly after noon.
On their return, Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, introduced a former refugee from the Democratic Republic on Congo, before presenting what he described as “the main course” — Mr Corbyn.
Appearances followed from Elvis McGonagall, performance poet, Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary, Mike Ward, chair of the Burston Strike School Trustees, while political band The Hurriers, from Barnsley, concluded the event with live music.
Shaun Jeffery, secretary to the Burston Strike School Museum Trustees and one of the organisers of the event, said they were expecting a “Corbyn bounce” of an increase in the numbers attending.
“Our issue was we could not predict how big that would be,” he said. “It has certainly added a few extra hundred people, which is fantastic. It has not been an issue, there has not been any dramatic incidents, so everyone is pleased and everyone has had a great day. Hopefully we will be able to sustain a higher level of attendance for next year. It’s a hard act to follow I think!
“I’ve already said wouldn’t it be good if we got the Labour leader to speak (next year, should Mr Corbyn be successful) and even beyond that, who knows.
“I was recently reading about the rallies of the past, how they turned up on the train and marched down to the green, and to think 100 years later there is still an annual celebration and commemoration of what happened here.
“It is very valuable financially for us, because we survive wholly on donations and the Trade union movement to keep us going so it is good all round.
“I would also like to emphasise the community benefits greatly. The school provides the food and they make money from that, we have got the local pub (Burston Crown) doing the beers, so financially things do circulate out and benefit the wider community, as we do take over the village for the day.”