"What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager." --Mrs Jayaben Desai parting shot to the boss when she led the Grunwick walkout.
|Mass Grunwick picket|
2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike in Willesden, north-west London. This was an historic dispute which changed the face of trade unionism, shattered stereotypes about Asian women workers in Britain and inspired many people to challenge injustices. Organisers of the anniversary want to install a mural close to the original site of the Grunwick factory to serve as a permanent public reminder of this important strike, as well as put on some events in autumn 2016 to mark the occasion.
The mural will be designed by a local artist with input from local people and has been initiated by Brent Trades Council and the Willesden Green Town Team.
They need to raise £15,000 to pay for the artist and materials and run the community participation workshops. Can you help? Can your organisation or trade union make a donation? They will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in January, and posting updates on the Grunwick strike Facebook page.
I well remember the strike and the massive Support the Grunwick workers received from trade unionists from all over the UK. In many ways it was a turning point for thousands of workers, many of whom may up until then have held racist views, but once they visited the Grunwick Picket and saw the indefatigable Jayaben Desai and her fellow strikers they came to see them not as aliens from another world but trade union sisters who deserved their support. As far as racism and a lack of equality for women within the trade unions are concerned, Grunwick was a major event, one of the major turning points which brought about the beginning of the end of these inequalities.
During a mass picket on 22 July 1977, Kent, Scottish, Welsh, and Yorkshire miners led by Arthur Scargill and Mick McGahey march in unison from the nearest tube station to the picket line. Their foot fall on the local streets equaled that of any Guards regiment. The NUM was not called the Guards regiment of the TUC for now't, on that day they were a sight to make any trade unionist proud.
The Metropolitan Police played their normal despicable role, bullying, intimidating, and spying on all and everyone who chose the workers side against an exploitative employer. In truth not much has changed since as far as the Met is concerned.
The police made over 500 arrests on the picket line and frequently used police violence, often after deliberate police provocation. On one occasion I witnessed a handful of people throwing stones and other objects at the police, when they were 'firmly' told to stop, the raced back behind the police lines which opened up to let them through. It was also thought there were members of the military present, although this was never proven. What we do know Grunwick was the first time that the infamous Special Patrol Group, the Mets paramilitary unit had been deployed in an industrial dispute.
The local Brent Trades Council, led by veteran construction union activist Tom Durkin and an ambitious T&G activist named Jack Dromey, were active in support of the strikers, mobilising support from other Trades Councils, trade unions and Labour Movement organisations across Greater London and beyond. Dromey, after Mrs Desai, became the public face of the dispute as far as the media were concerned.
In the end the Grunwick workers epic two year picket from 1976 to 1978 ended in failure, but there was no shame in that, given the state marshalled its forces to defeat this small group of gallant women. The fear these women created amongst the powerful was best demonstrated when after a small number of his cabinet attended the Grunwick Picket, Jim Callaghan the then Labour lickspital PM ordered members of his government not to attend or support the striking workers.
* Mrs Jayaben Desai obituary can be read here
|Mrs Jayaben Desai; trade unionist, born 2 April 1933; died 23 December 2010, a working class hero.|