Eight decades after the Battle of Cable Street, east London is still united | Angus Ritchie

In 1936, local residents blocked Oswald Mosley’s fascists. Now the community is winning the fight for affordable housing

Sometimes it is good to see history repeating itself.

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 housing manifesto, 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 genuinely affordable homes 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 promised to deliver in all three areas.

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.

Angus Ritchie is director of the Centre for Theology and Community and a priest at St George-in-the-East in Shadwell.

Sign up for your free Guardian Housing network newsletter with comment and sector views sent direct to you on the last Friday of the month. Follow us:@GuardianHousing

Looking for a housing job, or need to recruit housing staff? Take a look at Guardian Jobs


Angus Ritchie

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sadiq Khan's plan for an affordable housing boom now rests with developers
The mayor wants 33,000 affordable homes to be built in London. But without a dramatic increase in funding – and willing builders – he may struggle

Richard Brown

06, Dec, 2017 @7:23 AM

Article image
Sadiq Khan must decide who to side with: residents or developers?
The London mayoral campaign became the housing campaign – the winner must force government to take demand and affordability more seriously

Dawn Foster

07, May, 2016 @7:31 AM

Article image
Sadiq Khan: 'As mayor I'll give first dibs on housing to Londoners'
Labour’s candidate says he will encourage big business to invest in London’s housing market and ensure that residents come first in the housing queue

Dawn Foster

07, Apr, 2016 @11:06 AM

Article image
Building more homes in London won't solve the country's housing crisis | Jonathan Manns
There is little incentive to build houses where they are needed most, across the whole of the country, not just London. We need a proper national plan

Jonathan Manns

17, Nov, 2017 @8:45 AM

Article image
Where do four leading London mayoral candidates stand on housing?
The biggest issue for Londoners is housing. We ask Siân Berry, Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan and Caroline Pidgeon to reveal their housing policies

Dawn Foster

07, Apr, 2016 @11:10 AM

Article image
Sadiq Khan needs to ask for more than just local views on housing | Ben Rogers
Regeneration can change the shape of a community. Locals should have a say – but so should many other people

Ben Rogers

09, Feb, 2018 @7:23 AM

Article image
London fire: Theresa May meets victims after criticism
Prime minister visits hospital in west London, a day after going to scene but talking only to emergency workers

Heather Stewart

16, Jun, 2017 @1:31 PM

Article image
Caroline Pidgeon: 'The Lib Dems want renters to have the strong hand'
The London mayoral candidate explains why she’d be tough on rogue landlords, and pledges to create a city-wide construction academy for housebuilding

Dawn Foster

07, Apr, 2016 @11:08 AM

Article image
Sadiq Khan attacks empty luxury flats, but his housing policies are also void
While the London mayor attacks foreign investors for using homes as ‘gold bricks’, his policies to tackle the housing crisis are starting to dilute

Dawn Foster

27, May, 2016 @6:16 AM

Article image
'Naked homes' tap into the horror and desperation of housing need
Downgrading homes until they’re cheap enough isn’t an answer to the housing crisis. We need an increase in council borrowing and building – not gimmicks

Dawn Foster

28, Apr, 2017 @5:50 AM