The 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street – when all the communities of the East End united to repel a fascist march – again brought together a diverse range of political activists, community and ethnic groups.
All paraded under the banner “No pasaran” – they shall not pass – the rallying cry of the East End on October 4, 1936, drawing on the spirit of the Spanish Civil War.
And so it came about. They did not pass. Although the blackshirts were given clearance to march to the heart of the Jewish community – and given assistance by the Metropolitan Police – makeshift barricades and ramshackle rebellion tens of thousands strong ensured the fascist column never reached their target.
One man spoke emotionally of “deep personal significance” of the day and his mother’s role in the fight against Oswald Mosely’s blackshirts. That was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who reflected on the tales his mother – Naomi – would tell of that febrile day.
He said: “She stood here with so many others because she wanted to live in a world, as we all do, that is free from xenophobia and free from hate. Those that stood here in 1936 did an enormous service.”
Although eight decades old, Cable Street has a renewed significance in the Brexit era when xenophobia has become the fellow traveller in a debate about independence and while the Labour Party itself stands accused of anti-Semitism and bullying.
Sarah Sackman, from the Jewish Labour Movement, told the crowd that racism and anti-Semitism should always be challenged, “wherever we find it, including in our own ranks”.
Rushanara Ali, the Labour MP for Cable Street’s constituency Bethnal Green and Bow, spoke to the crowd before it set off from Altab Ali Park, named after a victim of a race murder.
She praised “the Jewish community, the trade union movement, those who stood up against intolerance and fascism here in east London, so that we could live safely, and in safety and harmony”.
Mr Corbyn shared a platform with Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack, Communist Party of Britain chairwoman Liz Payne to commemorate the bloody confrontation, Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and key figures from the union movement, including Unite leader Len McCluskey.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attended a separate Cable Street event at Shoreditch town hall, and tweeted he had met “heroes” of the fight.
He added: “80 years after The Battle of Cable Street we must not forget its lessons. Hope and friendship trumps fear & division.”