On Sunday, a noisy, colourful march of over a thousand people, started at Aldgate and wended its way through the East End culminating in St George’s Gardens, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
The diverse marchers were made up of trade unionists, local Labour parties – from Golders Green to Tower Hamlets – BAME groups, Irish associations, Far Left groups and even a Yiddish marching band! I was proud to march alongside fellow members of the Jewish Labour Movement under quite easily the largest banner at the event, emblazoned with JLM’s white Magen David logo on a red background. We gathered to recognise the contribution of our predecessors – parents, grandparents and great-grandparents – who stood up to the fascists and to learn Cable Street’s lessons for today.
At the rally I spoke as JLM vice-chair alongside Max Levitas, Cable Street veteran, Jeremy Corbyn, and writer, Michael Rosen and others, next to one of London’s most striking pieces of street art, a giant mural commemorating 9 October 1936.
That day Jews, Irish dockers, Labourites and Socialists put racial and political differences aside and came together to prevent Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from marching through the heavily Jewish neighbourhood.
I spoke about Cable Street’s special place in British Jewish history. Mosley’s decision to march in the East End was deliberate. The BUF’s anti-semitism echoed European fascism. When they needed someone to blame for society’s problems, they chose the Jews.
That is why it was so important for the JLM, the inheritors of Cable Street’s legacy, to participate in the anniversary parade. JLM, formerly known as Poale Zion, was established to organise a political movement of Jewish people within the Labour Party. In 1936 it was part of the Jewish Labour Council which brought together Jewish trade unionists, socialists and labor Zionists, to take a more active approach to opposing fascism.
Whereas previous anniversaries had seen a low key JLM presence, this year over 50 Jewish Labour activists and many more allies from across the Party marched with pride and purpose. There was chanting and singing, led by ex-youth movementniks, of Ose Shalom, Hatikvah and even a rendition of Adon Olam to the tune of the Red Flag! The activists, religious, secular, young and old, former UJS presidents, movement workers and community leaders, were there to remember a seminal moment in Jewish Left history and to express their present commitment to progressive politics.
Today, memory is giving way to history. The social and political way of life of the Jewish East End has all but disappeared to be replaced by new immigrant communities, many of whom we marched alongside on Sunday, and who face the same challenges of poverty and xenophobia of 80 years ago. Yet, the idea of the East End continues to inspire people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, committed to a universal understanding of social justice. It serves as a powerful reminder that ordinary people can and must stand up against racism, hate and antisemitism wherever we find it, including within our own ranks.