P - R

Rosen Tubby

“Tubby” (Maurice) Rosen

Born around 1912, Rosen was a Communist councillor on Stepney Borough Council. He first became well-known in the East End of London as an organiser of the Stepney Tenants’ Defence League, which came out of rent strikes conducted from 1935 onwards. (Simon Blumerfield's play "Enough of all this" is based on the strikes.)

The leader of London Communists in this period, Ted Bramley, wrote of Tubby Rosen that he “was short but very broad, He was Jewish, with a round, chubby face, and a smile that never departed even when several thousands tenants were engaged in battle with scores of landlords, with himself as the focal point between the two. … Tubby Rosen … led innumerable rent strikes. The greatest epic of them all (at 21 weeks) was the fight of the (340) tenants of the Brady Street and Langdale Mansions, both owned by the same landlords, Messrs. Gold and Crapps”.

Other s
poradic strikes at tenements such as Paragon Mansions in Mile End Centre ward saw the stance of the tenants “reinforced by ‘strongarm’ men such as Maurice `Tubby’ Rosen”. The bailiffs and the police were held off and a partial victory won.

The movement grew rapidly, and the STDL, a federation of various tenants’ committees such as that at Paragon Mansions, was established in the autumn of 1937. Rosen was the second secretary of the STDL. By the end of January 1939, it had ten local committees, and could count on nearly 5,000 affiliated members.  Rosen announced that with thousands of tenants already refusing to pay rent, the big landlords were on the run. Then the onset of war in 1939 brought immediate rent controls which froze rents. The League had risen to contain some 11,000 members by 1940 and had two full time organizers, Harry Conn and Ella Donovan, both members of the Communist Party.

Communist strength in Stepney dated back to the foundation of the Party but it had been much boosted by anti-fascist work and taken to a whole new stage by the work amongst tenants, which was dominated by the boldness of working class women.  The first Communist candidate chosen to run for a borough council seat, in 1937, was Phil Piratin, who later became the MP for the area.

Rosen served as a sergeant in the Royal Artillery in the Second World War but, by the time the war was over, Communists dominated the Stepney borough and could look forward to being elected as councillors. Tubby Rosen was selected to stand in Mile End West, with Phil Piratin and Tom Rampling in Spitalfields East, Edward Kirby and Michael Shapiro in St George’s North-West, Max Levitas and Queenie Weinberg in Whitechapel East, with Bill Carver and Fannie Goldberg in Mile End North.

All had been active in the struggles for better housing. When the elections came, in November 1945, all 10 Communist candidates won their seats, including Rosen. Three women were elected to the Stepney Borough Council along with four Jewish male Communists and three non-Jewish male Communists. All of them, including the non-Jews, won their seats in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods. Many observers at the time asserted that the Communists could easily have taken 10-15 more seats than this but the Party had restrained its contests in the interests of left unity.

Rosen was one of the five Communist Party leaders arraigned at Bow Street magistrates court in 1946, charged with conspiring with others to trespass on property and aiding and abetting in directing such a trespass. The case arose out of the squatters movement, and in particular the occupation of the Duchess of Bedford House, Kensington High Street on September 8th 1946.

When the occupation began, the Times ran a headline: ‘1500 SQUATTERS OCCUPY LUXURY FLATS — AUDACIOUS OPERATION IN WEST END’. The Duchess of Bedford House in Campden Hill was invaded by some 200 squatters, after Communist organisers had discreetly arranged for the flats to be `opened’ and available for ex-servicemen and their families.

This was a block of luxury flats, halfway between Kensington and Notting Hill, with enormous accommodation, “more space than the average house”. Within the next week or two, other mass squattings had taken place, at Fountain Court, Pimlico, and elsewhere, But, since the Duchess of Bedford squat was the first, it was regarded as a legal test case, although the action was hugely popular.

The Ministry of Works had requisitioned the buildings, to house Maltese building workers, who were repairing bomb damage. They had all been moved on, and the place had been standing empty, but had not been returned to the original owners, possibly the Prudential Assurance Company, although due to adverse publicity, these denied all knowledge of the flats. Due to this confusion, the squatters were largely left alone by any authority for weeks. Attempts to turn off the mains supplies were thwarted by permanent picket duty rosters.

Then writs started to be served and the squatters’ own committee, which had been in negotiation for other accommodation, decided to recommend that the squatters leave voluntarily. The Communist Party organised a band to accompany a march to a fleet of coaches, which took the families to the now empty Old Workhouse at Bromley by Bow. In time, rehousing was won by all squatters.

The hearings at the Old Bailey from October 30th to 31st 1946 and the other Communists on trial were Ted Bramley, Joyce Alergant, Stan Henderson and Bill Carritt. (See separate entries for all.)
Defended by Sir Walter Monckton, they were all found guilty, including Rosen, and bound over for two years. But the Labour government now felt obliged to speed up rehousing programmes.

Sources: Henry Srebrnik, “Class, Ethnicity and Gender Intertwined: Jewish women and the East London Rent Strikes, 1935-1940”, Women’s History Review, Volume 4, Number 3, 1995; undated daily Worker cutting (courtesy Michael Walker) – 1946; Ted Bramley `The Battle for Homes'; The Times 9th September 1946; Arthur Hill: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/01/a2053801.shtml;