The Battle of Cable Street: When East End of London halted a fascist march, 1936


The Battle of Cable Street was a conflict on Sunday 4 October 1936 between anti-fascist protesters and the British Union of Fascists. The BUF was an organization inspired by Mussolini's Blackshirts, and reportedly consisted of 50,000 members at its height before being banned in 1940.

The British Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, planned to send thousands of marchers wearing their blackshirt uniforms through the East End (an area that then had large Jewish and Irish populations).

About 100,000 residents petitioned the Home Secretary to ban the march, but they refused on grounds of freedom of expression. The government sent a police escort in an effort to prevent anti-fascist protesters from disrupting the march.

Anti-fascist groups built roadblocks in an attempt to prevent the march from taking place. Towards the western end of this long street, barricades were built near the junction with Christian Street.

An estimated 100,000 anti-fascist protesters turned out and 6,000 were met by police, who attempted to clear the road to allow the 2–3,000 fascist marches to proceed.

Demonstrators adopted the slogan 'They will not pass' in reference to Dolores Ibaruri, the communist leader in the Spanish Civil War, commenting on Franco's invasion from Morocco.

Bill Fishman, one of the anti-fascist protesters, recalled: “We all charged towards Cable Street. At the bottom end, an overturned lorry was used as a barricade and we blocked the road – short-bearded Hasidic Jews and Irish dockers all stood together. People started throwing down their mattresses to block the road and the police were attacked in a big way, in which two officers were also taken hostage.

The protesters fought back with sticks, rocks, chair legs and other improvised weapons. Garbage, rotten vegetables and items of chamber utensils were thrown at the police by women in the houses along the roads. After a series of ongoing battles, Mosley agreed to abandon the march to stop the bloodshed. About 175 people were injured, and 150 were arrested.

The Battle of Cable Street was a major factor in the passage of the Public Order Act 1936, which required the consent of the police for political marches and prohibited the wearing of political uniforms in public. It is widely regarded as an important factor in the political decline of the BUF before World War II.

Today the memory of the event is commemorated with a 330-square-metre mural on the side of St George's Town Hall. Commissioned in 1976, the colorful mural was inspired by the famous Mexican mural artist- Diego Rivera.

The designers interviewed local people to inform the design and used a fisheye perspective to depict fights, banners and people defending the community.

The mural stands in Cable Street approximately 150 yards (140 m) west of Shadwell Underground station. A red plaque in Dock Street commemorates the event.

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