The story of the Grunswick strikes told through an exhibition marking 40 years since they took place and influenced Labour rights and strike action since.
First published in The Canary on 22 October 2017:
“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.”
The above quote comes from Jayaben Desai, a woman who charismatically led her co-workers to strike action.
It was 20 August 1976 and one of the hottest days of the year. Grunwick was a film processing factory. It processed photographic film and then sent the pictures back by mail order. This was hugely popular in the 1970s, and during the summer the manager Malcolm Alden was keen to process as many films as possible.
But against the backdrop of widespread racism and difficult situations in their country of origin, workers at the factory of mostly South Asian origin were receiving a wage well below the national average and were forced to do overtime.
It was one of these summer days when Desai was about to leave that Alden demanded she stay and do overtime. Three workers had already been sacked and another three had walked out in protest. When she refused to stay he placed her on a formal warning.