Sarah Sackman, barrister, community campaigner and vice-chair of the Jewish Labour Movement - speech to the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
My father’s family were East End Jews. They came to this country at the turn of the century fleeing pogroms. In 1936, they watched the darkness enveloping Europe in horror, took in relatives fleeing Nazism and saw Moseley and others stirring anti-semitism here.
That same year, in July 1936, civil war erupted in Spain. On the other side of Europe, my maternal grandmother, my abuela, was a school girl living in Tarragona, Catalunya. Her childhood was spent in the thick of the conflict between Republicans and Nationalists, wondering whether her uncles would return from the war.
In Britain, in Spain. These were ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.
They never met, and they were separated by land, language and culture.
Yet when faced with rise of fascism they heard the same cry – No Pasaran, They Shall Not Pass.
The Cable Street demonstrators who stood up to Moseley and his black shirts saw the connection between their actions and Spain. They understood that there’s was a universal stand. Though desperately poor themselves, East Enders organized support, collecting shoes, supplies and, in some cases, volunteering to fight fascism in Spain. It didn’t matter where injustice arose, the cry was the same No Pasaran, They Shall not Pass.
Today, I come here not just as the granddaughter of that generation of anti-fascists but as vice-chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. We are a Socialist Society which has been affiliated to the Labour Party since 1920, formed to organise and maintain a political movement of Jewish people within the Labour Party and the international labour movement. JLM, in its earlier incarnarions [then known as Poale Zion], was part of the Jewish Labour Council formed in 1936 to bring together Jewish trade unionists and socialist societies, to represent working class Jews and take a more active approach in opposing fascism.
Cable Street holds a special place for British Jews. Oswald Moseley’s decision to march here was deliberate. The anti-semitic agenda of the British Union of Fascists echoed that of European Fascism. When the BUF needed a someone to blame for society’s problems, they chose the Jews.
The thousands of ordinary Jews, Irish dockers, Labourites, Socialists, Communists who gathered here – our parents, grandparents and great grandparents –working across racial and political lines stood together to say: no to fascism. Under the banner of “They Shall Not Pass” “No Pasaran” they stood together to prevent the march and won the day.
Today, memory is giving way to history. [At 70th anniversary celebrations Cable Street there were more veterans there than today]. The intense social, cultural and political way of life of the Jewish East End has all but disappeared, it has been replaced by new immigrant communities who face many of the same challenges of 80 years ago. Yet the very idea of the East End continues to inspire young people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, committed to a universal understanding of social justice.]
Cable Street symbolises the proud historic association between Britain’s Jewish community with the Labour Party and with the wider labour movement. It serves as a reminder that we must take a stand against xenophobia, against hate and against antisemitism wherever we find it, including within our own ranks.
The lessons of Cable Street are lessons for today.
Today, our politics has been captured by intolerance, isolation and a spirit of meanness. Our Government is turning its back on our neighbours and our responsibilities, Cable Street reminds us of the importance of solidarity and internationalism. The shameful failure to accept more refugees, xenophobic plans to name and shame foreign workers and the Government’s failure to our fulfil our obligations on poverty, inequality and human rights demands that like the people of Cable Street we take a stand.
Like them we say No Pasaran, this will not pass.