‘They Shall Not Pass’ message from the past for Battle of Cable Street 80th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 September 2016
A march and rally are included in events planned for next month’s 80th anniversary of the “historic” Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End when the working class rose up to stop Oswald Mosley’s 3,000 fascist Blackshirts marching through Whitechapel.
It marks the day a line was drawn when Jewish and Irish workers, trade unionists and the Communist Party packed the streets under the battle cry ‘They shall not pass’—changing British politics for ever.
A photo exhibition about the violent clashes between protesters and police on October 4, 1936, opened yesterday at the Watney Market Idea Store in the Commercial Road.
The commemorative march is being staged the Sunday after next at 12 noon from Whitechapel’s Altab Ali Park to the rally in Cable Street itself, at the green next to the old St George’s Town Hall.
Veterans from the original protest—now in their nineties—will be among politicians and trade-union activists.
The speakers plan to highlight an ongoing campaign against race hate stemming from Mosley’s anti-Semitism in the 1930s before the Holocaust and up to the present to include recent attacks in the wake of the Brexit vote to quit the EU.
A commemorative concert is planned the evening before, October 8, at St John on Bethnal Green parish church at 7.30pm by the Grand Union Orchestra, Coma London Ensemble, East London Community Band and others. The orchestra also performs at Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix arts centre on October 9.
A procession in Cable Street with a jamboree and youth workshops is being held on the commemoration day itself, next Tuesday, by Cornucopia theatre company from 6pm.
The last big commemorative rally for the Battle of Cable Street was 10 years ago on the 70th anniversary.
A rallying conference was also held at Whitechapel’s Toynbee Hall settlement when veterans like Professor Bill Fishman, at 85, recalled the events of 1936.
“I was moved to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley,” he told his audience. “I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of fascism.”
Bill, the son of an East End Jewish immigrant tailor, came-face-to-face at the Toynbee Hall rally with Oswald Mosley’s son, Nicholas Mosley, also in his 80s, who gave an account of his father’s discredited fascist movement in pre-war Britain.
Bill Fishman died in 2014 at 93, having left a lifetime legacy of knowledge of a struggling society.
Cable Street turned the tide of pre-war public opinion when support for fascism in Britain began to decline.
Mosley’s planned march from Tower Hill through Whitechapel was seen as provocation against the East End’s largely Jewish community.
The government of the day refused to ban it—so 200,000 protesters packed Gardiner’s Corner junction in Whitechapel High Street. A tram driver even abandoned his double-decker in the middle of the street to block the march.
Police tried diverting the Blackshirts through Cable Street to avoid the crowds.
But protesters got wind of the switch and they, too, headed to Cable Street. A lorry was overturned, paving stones ripped up and a barricade was thrown up.
The tense situation and clashes which had already broken out between protesters and police made it too dangerous for police to alklow the march to go ahead.
The Police Commissioner eventually ordered Mosley to turn back.
There was jubilation when word reached the crowd. The Battle of Cable Street had been won—the Blackshirts did not pass.