The Battle for Brick Lane: Struggle and Solidarity in East London

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Few European cities have experienced neoliberalism the way London has in the last few decades. The ongoing battle against galloping gentrification in the eastern part of the city finds a crucial nexus in Brick Lane, a kilometer-long street, home to Bangladeshi and Bengali lives threatened by capital’s predation. Tasnima Uddin and Syma Tariq write about this battle and the Save Brick Lane campaign’s wider significance beyond this one street.

Save Brick Lane Funambulist
Save Brick Lane protest on June 14, 2021. / Courtesy of Tasnima Uddin.

It was a humid afternoon in September 2021, two days before the London Council of Tower Hamlets voted two-to-one for a five-story mall to be built on Brick Lane. Renowned for its rich history and cultural significance for the Bangladeshi community, Brick Lane’s usual bustle turned still that day as a solemn crowd, all dressed in black, emerged. Leading the way was bellman Saif Osmani from the Bengali East End Heritage Society; behind him, stepping to each clang, were activists from the Spitalfields Trust, Assemble, Spitalfields Life, East End Preservation Society, and East End Trades Guild. Members of the eighth group of this diverse coalition, Nijjor Manush, led a crowd of protesters behind them, carrying signs that read, “Save Brick Lane!”

This odd funeral march left from Altab Ali Park, a former churchyard later named after a local Bangladeshi garment worker killed in a racist attack in 1978, its name a clue to working-class, migrant and Bangladeshi presence in the area. In the park stands a smaller version of the Shaheed Minar, the national monument in Dhaka commemorating those murdered by the Pakistani state during the Bengali Language Movement in 1952. A common meeting place and gathering point for protests, the park is opposite the “South Asian” end of Brick Lane. Continuing on, a small bridge that hangs over its strip of curry houses, leather stores, coffee shops, and vintage clothing outlets bears the name of a significant company, the reason for the funeral procession: Truman Brewery.