Battle of Cable Street
By Kate Reading
Seventy years ago Londoners took the fight against fascism to the east end streets.
Cable Street is an unassuming, run of the mill street in the heart of Whitechapel.
Walking along it today it would be difficult to believe that anything extraordinary had ever happened there.
But On Oct 4th 1936, over 250,000 ordinary east enders, took to the streets to fight their own war against fascism. The ensuing clashes became known as "The Battle of Cable Street".
Europe was in the grip of Fascism. Both Germany and Italy were led by dictators and civil war had broken out in Spain, after a fascist uprising.
Britain had the British Union of Fascist (BUF) headed by the glamorous and charismatic Sir Oswald Mosley and his blackshirts.
Mosley is saluted by female blackshirts
The BUF had been terrorising Jews throughout the East End. On Oct 4th they planned to march through Stepney, an area with the largest Jewish population in England.
Despite petitions from local Jewish groups the Conservative government refused to ban the march.
The blackshirts assembled at Gardner’s Corner, a famous department store in Aldgate, known as the gateway to the east End.
Their way was blocked by thousands of demonstrators, made up of communists, Jews, dockers and labourers from the local community.
They flooded the narrow streets, making them impassable. They carried banners and chanted "They Shall Not Pass" a slogan adopted from the Spanish Republicans.
A lone tram driver stopped his tram in the middle of a junction blocking the blackshirts way. The driver then got out and walked off.
Barricades had been erected in the side streets to stop the march getting past. Over 10,000 police officers had been drafted in and they mounted constant baton charges to try and clear the streets.
Four thousand officers on horseback joined the charges, as the anti-fascists fought back with chair legs, marbles and stones.
A barricade in the east end
In Cable Street a hasty barricade was erected, made of mattresses, furniture, planks of wood from a local builders yard and even a lorry.
Women in houses along the street contributed by hurling rotten vegetables, rubbish, bottles and the contents of chamber pots onto the police as they attempted to dismantle the barricade.
Finally, the police gave in and told Mosley to march back through the deserted City of London streets to The Embankment. There was jubilation and partying in the streets of the East End.
Once the dust had settled over 150 people had been arrested and some were sentenced to hard labour. There were reports of police brutality suffered while in custody and 100 people were injured including police officers, women and children.
British Union of Fascists march
In the following months the government passed The Public Order Act of 1936 forbidding the wearing of political uniforms in public. After the battle of Cable Street, BUF popularity of was never the same. A remarkable story from an unremarkable street.
Today, a red plaque and a mural on the Side of St George’s Hall are the only visible signs that anything momentous ever occurred here. But they stand as a quiet testament to the power of ordinary people.
last updated: 15/05/2008 at 11:42
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