By Caroline Colebrook
AROUND 1,000 anti-fascists gathered last Sunday near Aldgate East Station in London’s East End for a march to a rally in the St George’s Gardens to commemorate the historic Battle of Cable Street exactly 75 years ago.
In that battle local people including Jewish immigrants and Irish dockers fought side by side to prevent Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists (known as the Blackshirts) from making a provocative march through the area, designed to intimidate the local communities, especially the Jews.
The resistance was organised largely by the local Communist Party. The Labour leadership at the time opposed direct action on the streets; nevertheless many Labour rank and file members ignored their leaders and took part.
Hundreds of thousands of local East Enders barricaded their streets to deny the fascists access.
With the main routes into the East End blocked police tried to clear a way through Cable Street where fighting between local people and police became intense, with many arrests and much police brutality as residents threw all manner of objects from upstairs windows on to the police.
Eventually police gave up and Mosley never did get to march through the East End. His aim to split local communities and foment racist violence instead united local people in opposition to fascism.
This contrasted starkly to events just four weeks previously when the Islamophobic English Defence League also tried to stage a provocative march through the same area.
On the occasion the police were on the other side, confining the fascists to a brief bad-tempered static rally near Liverpool Street Station – inside the City of London. They did not get to set foot in the East End.
Last Sunday the new local immigrant community – of Bangladeshi origin – played a leading role in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Oswald Mosley and stressing that the fight against fascism and racism continues.
Their organisations included the Bangladesh Youth Union UK and the Altab Ali Memorial group. Altab Ali was a victim of a racist murder in Whitechaple in 1978.
There is still a large Jewish community in the area and relations between the Jews there and the Islamic Bangladeshis are warm and comradely.
There were many speakers at the rally including 97-year-old Max Levitas, a veteran of the International Brigades, and peace campaigner Hetty Bower, aged 106 that day. The rally sang Happy Birthday.
Bob Crowe, general secretary of the RMT transport union, gave a rousing anti-fascist speech. He said: “Fascists feed off scapegoats. But if you create a society where everyone has a house and a job then you have a society where the fascist cannot live.”
Other trade union speakers included TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady and Gail Cartmail from Unite.
The final speaker was Matthew Collins from Hope not Hate, who has recently had published a book about his experiences as a member of the National Front and BNP as a naïve and alienated youth before he realised that far from fighting for the white working class, these fascist organisations are profoundly anti-working class.
He is now a dedicated anti-fascist activist and a class warrior for the whole working class.
Matthew Collins closed proceedings in his usual witty way with a recollection of selling fascist newspapers just up the road in Brick Lane in the 1980's and early nineties and being given a rudimentary lesson in anti-fascism by an outraged local.