'THE annual tribute to the leader of the first miners’ union will be held on Saturday.
Former Labour, and later Respect, MP George Galloway will attend the Thomas Hepburn commemorative service along with Tony Benn, the former Labour MP who attends each year’s Durham Miners’ Gala.
The service will be held at 11am in St Mary’s Church, Heworth, Gateshead. It will feature an address from Mr Galloway and readings from Gateshead Council’s Labour leader, Mick Henry, and a pupil from Thomas Hepburn Community School, Gateshead.
Thomas Hepburn, who was born at Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, in 1795 started work in the mines aged eight and was the leader of the Colliers United Association of Durham and Northumberland, which was formed in 1825. It led to a strike in 1831 which resulted in boys’ daily working hours being reduced from 18 to 12, after which Hepburn and other leaders were victimised.
David Hopper, general secretary of the NUM (North- East Area), said: “It seems ironic that the coalition Government is still attacking trade unions as irresponsible organisations when you look back in history and see why they were formed – namely to protect the interests and safety of working people.
“I dread to think what working conditions in the UK would be in the present day without the unions.’’
■ On Friday at 6pm Mr Benn will give the Thomas Hepburn Lecture in Gateshead Old Town Hall Performance Hall.
Admission is by free ticket, available by calling 0191- 433-3000 or at gateshead.gov.uk'