October 4 marks the eightieth anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, when a motley crew of Limehouse residents refused to allow pro-Nazi Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists to march through the East End. With help from some well-aimed eggs, emptied toilet pans and thrown mattresses, a group of Jewish families, Irish dockers and trade unionists formed a human blockade and forced the fascists to retreat.
A number of musical events this week are celebrating the anniversary of an event that, sadly, still has a great deal of resonance today. Only three years ago, thousands of Bethnal Green residents came out to oppose a race-hate march from the English Defence League. Likewise, the ugly rise in racist attacks since the Brexit vote shows that the Battle of Cable Street (depicted in the mural below) is well worth remembering.
That said, this week’s events are not simply exercises in nostalgia. Jewish cultural centre JW3 has invited synth-reggae protest group Captain Ska for its Cable Street 80 Protest Party, an evening of riotous protest music on Sunday October 9. While the Grand Union Orchestra (GUO) has organised a week of performances and workshops culminating in After Cable Street, a two-hour concert retelling the story of the battle and the intervening years via an international cluster of singers, musicians and youth orchestras at Rich Mix on Sunday October 9. Other events feature former residents, now in their nineties, sharing memories of the clash.
The chorus of ‘They shall not pass’ held back fascists in 1936, and it’s always worth remembering how much a great slogan and some solidarity can achieve.