The response to Mosley’s planned march through London’s East End from the local community, trade unions and some political parties was a strong one. When Mosley announced his march during the summer of 1936 numerous attempts were made to Home Secretary, Sir John Simon asking to ban the march as well as a 100,000 signature petition delivered to him. Five East London Mayors also met with Simon warning there would be trouble if allowed to go ahead; but still the Home Secretary did not listen. It was now up to local people to defend their communities.
The Jewish Board of Deputies, the Labour Party and newspapers the Daily Herald and News Chronicle all appealed for people to stay away. Almost every other mainstream political party and newspaper were against the anti-fascist defence with everything done to suppress the anger of the people. The main response came from Community groups, trade unions and some political parties who all played their part in organising local people. Trade Unions such as the National Union of Tailor & Garment Workers (NUTGW) and the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association (NAFTA) which had thousands of Jewish members done their bit in organising the local community. The Workers Circle; a friendly society which organised sickness and unemployment benefits, had 3000 members and premises in Stepney were also influential. Community groups were established such as the Jewish Labour Council and Jewish People’s Council Against Fascism & Anti-Semitism (JPC) along with the Independent Labour Party, Labour League of Youth, Young Communist League and the Communist Party all playing leading roles in the anti-fascist response. Indeed, one leading light in the community was Phil Piratin, later to become Communist Party MP for Stepney & Bow. It should also be noted that many of the people involved in the ant-fascist response had been involved in the International Brigades fighting the fascist Franco regime in Spain.
Saturday 4th October
Tension and feelings were now running high in the East End. In the run up to the 4th October the fascists terrorised the East End with intimidation, physical assault and vandalism. On the morning of the 4th, members of the Jewish Ex-Serviceman’s Association,wearing medals mainly from the First World War marched from London Hospital and along Whitechapel Road, where they found their route blocked by mounted Police. Police then ordered the Servicemen to disperse which they refused to do. The Police response was to severely beat them, tear down the British Legion Union Jack and throw it in the gutter. The people of the area did not bow down to the fascist tactics. Instead people were organised to gather in large numbers at strategic points along the route of the march to prevent the BUF from marching and barricades were also built on the morning of the march to defend their streets from the fascists. An upturned lorry, materials from a builders yard and peoples homes were used. Dockers ripped up flagstones and covered the street in broken glass and marbles as a defence against Police Mounted baton charges.
The advertised route for Mosley and his Blackshirts was to march from Royal Mint Street past Gardiners Corner in Aldgate and along Commercial Road. From h ere, anti-fascists had to guess the route they would take next through Stepney to reach their destination in Bethnal Green. They could march either along The Highway or along Cable Street. It was not thought they would march along The Highway as it followed the dockside were very few would see the fascist procession and thus be viewed by Mosley as a defeat. Cable Street was the other option, but Police would be cautious about directing the BUF down here due to it’s narrow streets and adjoining alleys. The anti-fascist organisers believed that Mosley would refuse going down the dockside and take the alternative route through Cable Street. How right they were. During that morning Londoners were mobilised to different locations along the route with the clear intention to prevent the fascists from marching. A network of ‘runners’ who observed the BUF and their movements regularly telephoned information into headquarters, where over a 100 calls were taken in two hours.
Top: Masses of Anti-Fascist protestors gathering at Aldgate. . Above: Police arrest anti-fascist; Charlie Goodman.