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Unfinished Journey

by Aubrey Morris
Paperback; 207pp; ISBN 0-9513909-8-8

We must be grateful for the likes of Aubrey Morris who picked up his pen and wrote –memorably– of memories.
Sir Arnold Wesker


Unfinished Journey is the story of an extraordinary life. Aubrey Morris was born into a Jewish émigré family in London’s East End. His father was a baker who was addicted to gambling and managed to fritter away much of the bakery’s meagre earnings, so life for the family was far from easy. Aubrey left school with little formal education, was intimately involved in the 1930s battles with Mosley’s fascists in the East End, before joining the Army to fight in Normandy. Once the war was over, he became a London cab driver. After taking his family in the black cab on holiday to Italy in the early fifties, he caught the travel bug and plunged into the travel business.

He pioneered the idea of package holidays for his fellow cabbies, and became the main transporter for Spurs and England fans travelling to the continent for away matches. His success in the travel business brought him wealth, a privileged life and a great deal of satisfaction. However, this didn’t shake his continued belief in socialism and a fairer society for all.

 

 

 

Aubrey Morris

Aubrey Morris grew up in London’s East End, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He became adult during the thirties and not only witnessed first hand the poverty of many East London families, but also the seemingly inexorable rise of home-grown fascism. He was one of the hundreds of East Enders who prevented Mosley’s fascists from marching through Stepney.

The east end of London was a hotbed of political discussion during the twenties and thirties.  It stemmed from the terrible working conditions and even worse ones at home.  Sweatshops, coupled with both piecework and the seasonality of employment with little no welfare state support was coupled with overcrowding and desperate living conditions in the dense slums.

In the early days of his life, there were heated debates: Bundists, Bolsheviks, Anarchists and even nihilists would argue furiously.  These were largely the immigrants and they brought with them the dissonance and discord that appeared to be an intrinsic part of their being; these were older men.  But, the audiences they attracted were of a different kind - people seeking solutions to their immediate problems.  Revolutions and dialectics and the means of achieving change were of the future.  For them it was the trade unions - the formation of mutual societies such as the Workers Circles grew exponentially. Many supported the Liberal Party which, quite cleverly, put forward Jewish candidates and in the main succeeded in capturing the Jewish vote. It was never an easy transition to radicalism, but it was the continued oppression, together with the work of left wing activists showing the way to attack and win that began to make changes.  The Communist Party was in the forefront of that continuous battle.

Aubrey was born in Cable Street but left there when he was about ten years old to go to Bethnal Green.  It was there that he became radicalised.  The sweatshops were also there - cabinet makers, spindlehands with missing fingers, destitute families, the maimed from the First World War. And the Welsh miners singing in the streets. There was a general feeling of despair. Here he also had his first glimpse of the rising tide of fascism was in the form of two adult sons of Italian neighbours strutting along the street in full Italian fascist uniforms. 

Morris was one of those involved in the Battle of Cable Street to keep Mosley's fascists out of Stepney.

‘One has to remember,’ Aubrey says, ‘that the fascists were ever present in those days, holding meetings, selling their papers and agitating around the East End. Clashes between progressives and the fascists were  weekly occurrences, but the anti-fascists usually ended up in jail or fined, rarely the fascists. In those days the police openly sympathised with Mosley and his Blackshirts. When Mosley planned his big march through the mainly Jewish East End, on Sunday 4th October 1936, the consensus was to keep a low profile and just let the fascists march. Even the Communist Party supported this line to begin with. However local Communists, like Phil Piratin and Jo Jacobs, the Labour League of Youth (of which I was a member then) and other radicals insisted that Mosley must be stopped. They persuaded the Communist Party leadership to help organise the anti-fascist opposition. The police were determined to ensure Mosley a free passage through the East End.

My uncle Isaac, an enormous man, had a fish and chip shop, and he battled through the already gathering crowds to his stable where he kept his horse and cart to bring it out to form part of the barricades. We were afraid he might attempt a gladiatorial battle against Mosley all on his own!

The people from Stepney, Whitechapel and the whole surrounding area mobilised to keep Mosley out. Also vital was the support lent by local trade union organisations and the dockers, led by Jack Dash who all rallied to the cause. It was a tremendous demonstration of class solidarity. On the Sunday following the rout of the fascists we held a massive victory march along the route Mosley would have taken.’

His first real job after the war was as a London Cabbie, but not long afterwards he plunged into the early travel business and built up a very successful package tour operation - Riviera Holidays. A real 'rags to riches' story.  

Aubrey Morris is now in his eighties, but his activism and belief in a socialist future is undimmed by age. His memoirs – Unfinished Journey - were published in 2007 to coincide with the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.

 

1 copy, including P&P