|Jayaben Desai (right)|
I have written elsewhere on this blog LINK how this strike in Dollis Hill, in the heart of Brent, was a significant milestone in the history of trade union struggle in the UK - and one that should feature when local schools devise their programmes for Black History Month
As someone who attended the pickets I well remember her inspiring presence in front of the Grunwick gates. This was a fight against exploitation based on race, class and gender and challenged the trade union movement's neglect of immigrant and women workers.
Here is Jayaben's own account of the working conditions at Grunwick:
On two sides there are glass cabins for the management so that they can watch you as well. He is English. He moves around and keeps an eye. You have to put up your hand and ask even to go to the toilet. If someone is sick, say a woman has a period or something, they wouldn’t allow her home without a doctor’s certificate, and if someone’s child was sick and they had to take it to the clinic or hospital they would say “Why are you going, ask someone else from your family to go”…And here is a quote about George Ward, the boss, that sums up her strength:
Even pregnant women who wanted to go to the clinic were told “you must arrange to go at the weekend.” On the rare occasions when a woman did go during working hours she would be warned that that was the last time. Everyone would be paid a different wage so no one knew what anyone else was getting. And to force people to work they would make them fill in a job sheet saying how many films they had booked in. If someone did a large number they would bring the job sheet around and show the others and say “She has done so many, you also must.”
He would come to the picket line and try to mock us and insult us. One day he said “Mrs Desai, you can’t win in a sari, I want to see you in a mini.” I said “Mrs Gandhi, she wears a sari and she is ruling a vast country.”… On my second encounter with Ward he said “Mrs Desai, I’ll tell the whole Patel community that you are a loose woman.” I said “I am here with this placard! Look! I am showing all England that you are a bad man. You are going to tell only the Patel community but I am going to tell all of England.”Quotes from Amrit Wilson, Finding A Voice: Asian Women in Britain
Jayaben's funeral will be at Golders Green Crematorium at 11am on December 31st. Her husband would like people to attend if they are able.