Eight decades after Battle Cable Street east London is still united

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Eight decades after Battle Cable Street east London is still united

In 1936, Jews, atheists and Irish Catholics stood side by side on Cable Street to prevent the march of Oswald Mosley’s fascists. This solidarity had been built over years, through action on their common interests primarily, better pay and housing.

On 9 February, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, released 10 new sites for development by small homebuilders. More than half the affordable homes included in the scheme will be built in Shadwell, along the northern side of Cable Street.

At its 2016 assembly, the community organisation London Citizens presented the two main mayoral candidates with its , developed through tens of thousands of one-to-one conversations and meetings across the city.

The demands included a London living rent, tying the definition of affordability to average incomes in an area; a good development standard to increase the proportion of in each new building project; and 1,000 affordable homes in Community Land Trusts (CLT). In front of 6,000 Londoners, many from churches, mosques and synagogues, Khan .

Since Khan’s election, some progress has been made and the latest announcement is another significant step forward, with new CLTs in Shadwell and Brixton.

Each of these proposals will have a significant impact on London’s housing crisis. But as important as the content of these policies is the manner in which they have been developed and secured. Last Friday’s announcement is a victory for organised citizens in London’s most deprived and diverse neighbourhoods.

It is a particularly sweet victory for the residents of Cable Street. Wages and housing were issues used by Mosley’s fascists to stoke tension between different communities. Eight decades on from the Battle of Cable Street, community organising offers a powerful counter to such politics of resentment.

The living wage campaign, for instance, began when a diverse group of east London citizens recognised the effect of poverty wages on family and community life. The Cable Street campaign began through a walk for affordable housing by a local church and mosque, to identify potential sites for community-led development. The relationships such community organising generates can make a deeper contribution to social cohesion than any top-down integration policy.

There is a constant pressure on politicians, both local and national, to generate new policy initiatives. If politicians want to nurture a healthy civil society, they must be willing to do more than this. They must also treat citizens with respect when they take the initiative and organise together for change.

Whatever else has changed in Cable Street, that remains as true as ever. When prejudice is on the march, the most powerful antidote is local people organising around their common interests.