by Jason Lever
Posted on Fri, 13 Dec 2013 14:30:43 GMT
Broadside against fascism’s resurgence in Britain
Solomon’s unhappiness with major aspects of Labour policies on anti-fascism and on Palestine/Israel came to the fore in speeches broadcast from the TUC podium.
Prominent trade unionists had previously gone public with their concerns at the hesitancy of the Labour Party's anti-fascist policies. In 1938, the Jewish Bakers Union delegate, Solomon Lever, tabled a resolution at the TUC congress in Blackpool, stating that:
‘This Congress condemns the introduction of anti-Semitism into British politics and strongly resents attempts by a Fascist organisation to introduce it into the Trade Union movement. This Congress pledges to fight this evil...’ (Jewish Chronicle, 02.09.38)
Post-war, he raised continuing concerns about a resurgence of fascism. The activities of Blackshirts – and counter-actions by the 43 Group – in Mare Street, Kingsland Road and Ridley Road Market in Hackney and Dalston were very close to his home and work life.
Interestingly, as this author now lives in Brighton, weekly meetings of fascists in the guise of the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women were held on Saturday afternoons at The Level, which served as an authorised speakers’ corner. Morris Beckman devotes a chapter of The 43 Group to describing the “Great Rally Disaster” in June 1948.
A local branch of the 43 Group of largely Jewish ex-serviceman, dedicated to direct action against fascist activity, successfully took up the cudgels against several hundred Union Movement (Blackshirt) rallyists. Organisers of the 43 Group had prior warning of the British Union of Fascists’ plans for a recruitment drive on The Level. On their arrival, the fascists were met by a hail of bricks and fighting went on all afternoon assisted by ‘elderly retired Jewish gentlemen, seemingly rejuvenated by Brighton air, wading into the fascists with their walking sticks and umbrellas
’ (Ref: Beckman, Bance).
As London Jewish Bakers Union delegate for over 20 TUC congresses, Solomon Lever’s newsreel appearances gave him as much political and public exposure as a maverick backbench MP. My late father, Charles, recalled being taken to the cinema as a child and seeing his Uncle Solly appear on the newsreel, speaking at the TUC in Southport on September 4, 1947 about the return of Blackshirt activities.
Mr. S Lever, London Jewish Bakers, set out evidence of the return of Blackshirt activities (TUC History Online, 1):
‘It is clear that the General Council has not realised the gravity with which trade union branches in East London regard this menace [of Fascist Activities]. An organisation calling itself the British League of Ex-Service Men, but which is really the old British Union of Fascists, is operating just as it did before the war... They march through the Jewish quarter of London, shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Mosley”!’
He eloquently linked the manifestation of anti-Semitism with underlying Fascism to strike the strongest chord with his predominantly non-Jewish and union audience:
‘If this were only a question of attacking the Jews, well, it would not matter very much. They have taken it for the past two thousand years, and they can take it to the extent of six million dead in Hitler’s concentration camps, and a few more insults would not make a very great deal of difference; but this is not the object of the Fascists, because their aim is the revival of Fascism, and they use anti-Semitism as a smoke-screen behind which they work... for the cashing in on the discontent of a section of the people’.
While seeking stronger condemnation from the TUC General Council, the main target of this speech is the Labour Government:
'A delegation comprising the Mayor and various other personalities in a district in East London has waited upon the Home Secretary [James Chuter Ede], without very much result, and in the meantime Fascism in East London marches on... like old times, you know, when Mosley and his Blackshirts marched through London before the war’.
Before he was out of time and wanting to re-state that the threat posed was to the ‘preservation of freedom and tolerance and democracy in this country
’, he carefully relates these anti-Semitic, fascist activities to the fighting in Palestine for the Jewish State:
‘The Fascists started this campaign a long time before these events in that unhappy land and let me say that every Jewish trade unionist and every Socialist condemns those troubles in Palestine more than I can say’.
Solomon Lever was taking pains to ensure that his union brethren could support him on the issue of Fascist resurgence whilst recognising that public sympathy with the Zionist cause was being greatly tested by the high-profile deaths of British soldiers during the struggle for independence.
According to Morris Beckman, there was ‘an overwhelming demand from rank and file for Congress to urge the government to take immediate steps to stamp out fascist activity in Britain
’. Delegates rebelled against the leadership who wanted them to leave the issue to the General Council.
Two days later, the lead editorial of the Daily Herald referred to the 'deep uneasiness felt by the TUC this week
[about the growth of fascist activities in London and other cities that] should convince the government that a way must be found to prohibit anti-Semitic provocations
’ (Ref: Beckman). Yet neither union pressure and some press support nor the 43 Group counter-actions persuaded Atlee’s Labour government to make incitement to racial hatred illegal.
The full speech can be read on the TUC History Online
(Second from left receiving congratulations after his speech, The Daily Herald, 4 September 1947)
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