As you may have seen in the national media, this week sees the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. On 4 October 1936 Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts were physically prevented from marching through the east end of London by a coalition of Jewish residents, Irish dockers and communists.
Last week (27 September) was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Holbeck Moor, an event that is not so well remembered. Moseley’s British Union of Fascists wanted to march through the Leylands (North Street / Sheepscar) area of the city, home to most of its Jewish citizens, but the Leeds Watch Committee wouldn’t give permission. Instead they marched to Holbeck and held a rally on the moor.
Just like London, many local people opposed them. This was October 1936, Mussolini was in power in Italy, Hitler in Germany and Franco had invaded Spain and kicked off the civil war.
The march proceeded and the rally went ahead, but when Moseley addressed the crowd he discovered most of them didn’t want to hear him. His voice was drowned out by repeated singing of The Red Flag and other socialist songs. Then the stones started flying. As a South Leeds resident I am proud to say that at least one scored a direct hit on him and the Fascists retreated in disarray.
Why does this matter? Because history is important. As someone once said “Those that don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately which stories we get to hear about are limited by the people who control the curriculum in school, the news agenda, or commission documentaries and dramas.
The history of ordinary working class people tends to get overlooked. We hear about how hard life was in the mills and slum housing – what was being done to workers. When it comes to being active participants in events – creating trade unions, clubs, educational associations and protesting to improve their conditions there is usually silence. So I thought I would do my bit to bring it to your attention.
What is the lesson to be learned from the Battle of Holbeck Moor? That when we stand together we can stop racism taking a hold.
I grew up in London in the 1970s. It was a scary time, the National Front was gaining support and ‘Paki bashing’ was a common occurrence. They tried to march through areas with high immigrant populations. They didn’t march there because they had support in those areas. Like Moseley in the 1936 they marched to intimidate the population and where they marched the number of racist attacks went up.
I joined the Anti Nazi League, a broad-based organisation that had learned the lesson of Cable Street and stopped the National Front, notably in Lewisham and Leicester. It also campaigned more widely against racism and with its sister organisation, Rock Against Racism, put on some of the most memorable gigs of the decade.
Luckily today we only have a few tiny splinter fascist groups in this country, but we do still have a problem with racism.
UKIP are one manifestation of this. I’m not saying UKIP is a racist party, but is has created a home for racists. The shenanigans this week must put into question UKIP’s ability to do anything much at all, but they contribute to the atmosphere.
The Conservative party always has been a home for racists and they are more dangerous because they are in power. Their proposal this week for business to keep records of ‘foreign’ employees gave me a cold shiver down the spine. Clearly they are not a fascist party, but compiling lists of names does rather smack of Nazi Germany.
It also begged a number of questions. Who will companies report this information to? Are we talking about foreign nationals or people born outside the UK (like me)? There was talk of naming and shaming – do they want us to boycott these firms? Do they plan to encourage thugs to paint graffiti on firms with ‘too many’ (whatever that is) foreign staff? This is a very slippery slope.
We need to stand together, as we did eighty years ago and say “No Pasaran!” – they shall not pass (such legislation).
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.