South Asian women fight for workplace rights at the Grunwick protest 1976. Picture courtesy of The TUC Collection. Note: After some more research, this actually took place in the UK. I’m leaving it up because they’re badass.
This pioneer of Asian women workers’ movement in Britain, died after a brief illness. She was 77. She is survived by her husband and two sons. The diminutive India-born Ms. Desai, who moved to Britain from Tanzania in 1969, came to be known as a “lioness” for her role in leading the two-year long strike at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories, north London, in the 1970s to demand union recognition for its largely Asian and female workforce. [link]
Desai…came to be known as a “lioness” for her role in leading the two-year long strike at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories, north London, in the 1970s to demand union recognition for its largely Asian and female workforce.
She famously told a manager: “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. 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 those lions, Mr Manager.’’
Wish I had known about Jaybean Desai sooner, she sounded amazing. Desi women in the labour movement…anyone else have any tips? names? thoughts?
Although workers failed to achieve their demand, the strike helped highlight the oppression of migrant women workers. Defiant to the end, Jayaben told the final meeting of the strikers that they could be proud. “We have shown,” she said, “that workers like us, new to these shores, will never accept being treated without dignity or respect. We have shown that white workers will support us.”
In what The Guardian said was her last known public statement, Ms Desai told the newspaper: “I am proud of what I did. They wanted to break us down, but we did not break.”
The Grunwick strike and the shameless exploitation of a largely female and Asian workforce by exploitative management backed up by the Tory Party and racist fellow travellers still resonates today pace the baying calls from the Tory Hyenas for more restrictions on the rights of trade Unions and attacks on workers’ rights hard won by the actions of Jayaben Desai in opposing obvious injustice and exploitation. Over 550 workers and supporters were arrested in the course of the Grunwick Strike and all the workers were sacked, but the insight their struggle provided into the heart of darkness changed British Society and employment relations in the years afterwards.