Celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street

Whilst many PCS members attended the demonstration against the Tory Party Conference in defiance of austerity on Sunday 3rd October, I attended the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street with my PCS flag. This event was important as the planned march by the British Union of Fascists under their leader, Oswald Mosley in 1936, was due to proceed. It was, initially, blocked by over 200,000 protesters from the Jewish and Irish communities that, initially, blocked Whitechapel High Street. As a result, Oswald Mosley’s 2,500 Black Shirts were outnumbered 10 to 1 and decided not to proceed with the march.

His ally, Benito Mussolini who was the fascist dictator of Italy, declared Mosley, a coward and stopped all funding of the British Union of Fascists. As a result, the movement was soon to crumble along with Mosley’s popularity. In the same year, King Edward VIII, a fascist sympathiser, abdicated. Without a doubt, it was a great victory to all the anti – fascist organisers which included Communists, Socialists, the local Jewish residents and the Irish dockers of the East End who were ready to fight Mosley’s Black Shirts. Sadly, Fascism and Nazism prevailed in much of Western Europe with Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy till 1945. In 1936, Franco declared a Civil War in Spain against the democratically elected Socialist Republican government and overthrew them within three years. Today, many Trade Unions are affiliated to the International Brigades Memorial Trust for the anti – fascist volunteers who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. I am a member of the IBMT.

The 85th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street was a very important day for me. I am second generation Irish and grew up in North London with many Jewish friends and neighbours. Hence, it is the reason that I carried the Irish flag with my own PCS flag and marched beside many Jewish groups on this important occasion. I am, also, a proud Socialist of Left Unity in PCS who campaigns for the rights of Disabled Workers within the TUC. I was the Secretary of Barnet Trades Union Council which has the largest Jewish population in Britain.

Today, the Far Right which consist of many groups such as Britain First, the English Defence League, the Football Lads Alliance and even the defunct National Front of the seventies, promote hatred and divisions amongst all working people. In PCS, it is important that we stand in solidarity against the Far Right as an injury to one is an injury to all! In my branch, there are a high percentage of PCS members who are Black as well as Muslim along with other faiths. As a PCS Union Representative, I believe it is vital that we stand up to racism, anti – semiticism, islamaphobia and ableism! This rally, also, makes links with the Bengali resistance to racism and fascism in East End in the seventies. In addition, I campaign against the Far Right in Ireland as well as internationally. PCS has a zero – tolerance policy against all forms of Far Right hatred including sectarianism! 

After we marched to the rally, we had a number of guest speakers including Apsana Begum MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP (Project for Peace and Justice), Rabbi Herschel Gluck, Mick Lynch (RMT General Secretary), Alex Gordon (RMT President), Massimo Ungaro MP (Italy), Amina Patel (Unison), Abdul Chowdhury (NEU), Noorahmed Uddin (Altab Ali Foundation), Joginder Bains (Indian Workers Association – GB) Julia Bard (Jewish Socialists’ Group), Rob Griffiths, (Communist Party), Weyman Bennet (Stand Up To Racism) Marlene Sidaway (International Brigades Memorial Trust), and relatives of the activists of 1936: Michael Rosen, Ruth Levitas, June Legg, and Tony Booth (Jewish Voice for Labour). All speakers made great contributions in reference to the Left which made a courageous stand against fascism, with the Jewish and Irish workers as their backbone. Today, all communities including the Bengalis, Muslims, Hindus and all faiths made a stand against the Far Right in this area!

Apsana Begum began by stating that she was a proud Socialist and Trade Unionist. She condemned the institutions that scapegoated immigrants all over Europe. Ms. Begum did not hesitate to state that the police were there in 1936 to protect the fascists. But their planned demonstration was blocked by the bravery of the anti – fascists. It is important that we continue this fight, today, as corruption, still, prevails in our police force. One of the police officers arrested, handcuffed, raped and murdered Sarah Everad. We must continue to hold the police accountable to natural justice. As a proud Bangladeshi MP of this area in Cable Street, she concluded “No Pasaran,” which is message against all Far Right people: “They shall not pass!”

As Jeremy Corbyn spoke, he thanked all those people who protested against fascism on 3rd October. He, also, condemned the discrediting of Apsana Begum in Parliament by many other MPs, especially as she represented this constituency of Cable Street in Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn stated that the Jewish and Irish communities came together in 1936, to say “They shall not pass!” He added that the Far Right wants to blame minorities for anything and referred to Grant Shapps, the Minister for the DVLA and DVSA as a prime example. Grant Shapps sent letters to MPs complaining of fuel shortage. Jeremy emphasised that fuel shortage can only be caused by poverty wages for workers, and the government should take the blame. Instead, Grant Shapps blamed it on the shortage of drivers because many Eastern Europeans came to Britain, ten years ago, by undercutting their wages. Shapps claims that they have gone home, recently, leaving a shortage of jobs for drivers. Corbyn made clear that it is another example of a right wing conservative government blaming immigrants!

From my own perspective, it is one of the many reasons that PCS members in the DVLA and DVSA are on Strike during the COVID 19 Pandemic. Full Credit for this industrial action goes to the PCS Branch members as well their Representative, Sarah Evans, and their Group President, Paul Williams, from Left Unity. Such scapegoating of immigrants amongst drivers must deliver a strong message to all the PCS members in their next ballot for industrial action!

Jeremy Corbyn added in his speech that it is fine to celebrate Black History Month. But we need to follow the example in the Welsh education curriculum of removing the teachings of the British Colonial past from our schools in order to further promote Black History Month. He concluded that we must give hope to the next generation not by free market economics but by building the communities with a hopeful future that society depends upon!

As I conclude, 85 years ago was a great victory for us! We need to continue these victories as the Far Right has not gone away! PCS under the leadership of Left Unity can deliver on this promise through actions and not, just, words! Solidarity! They shall not pass! No Pasaran!

Austin Harney