Grunwick – 40 years on

grunwick     John Callow blogspot

John Callow is the Director of Archives at the Marx Memorial Library. He is the author of seven books on history and politics. John’s blogpost discusses dignity at work, decency, the far-reaching impact of the Grunwick strike and how it foretold of the coming storm of right wing intervention in industrial relations.

Grunwick became the largest and one of the most well-known examples of British union action. The dispute involved thousands of trade unionists, attracting global attention. Between 1976 and 1978 there were 550 arrests at the picket line. Mostly South Asian women, Grunwick workers were protesting about inadequate wages, treatment by management and deplorable conditions at the film processing plant. Grunwick changed how trade unions thought about race, about their own core values and the best way to organise among immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

“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!” – Jayaben Desai.    Grunwick: The Workers’ Story. Author(s): Graham Taylor & Jack Dromey

In the beginning, Grunwick wasn’t a strike about wages – it was about something much more important than that. It was about dignity at work. For the small band of Asian women strikers, who braved sun, rain and snow month-in and month-out on the picket-lines, from August 1976 to July 1978, rights in the workplace and pride at work, were far more important than any amount of money. At the time, this book was the seminal account of the dispute, providing the workers’ own story in their own words and told by two of the leading participants in the strike. Now, forty years later, its themes still resonate, making this book vital reading for all of those who seek to organise within their own communities and workplaces.

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