Jayaben Desai 1933-2010

January 5, 2011 — News

Written by IRR News Team

On 23 December 2010, 77-year-old Jayaben Desai, the militant leader of the Grunwick strike (1976-1978) passed away.

‘There was another powerful political lady with a handbag other than Thatcher in the 1970s’, wrote Jenny Bourne when reviewing a DVD on the struggle at the factory, ‘A tiny woman, usually swathed in a bulky cardigan, almost always seen with a megaphone. An Asian lady in a sari, a bindi always on her forehead, with a gentle voice and large, reproachful eyes. This was Jayaben Desai, leader of the strikers at the Grunwick film-processing factory in North London.’ (Read the full review of the DVD: The Great Grunwick strike 1976-1978: a history here.)

In March last year young filmmakers from west London interviewed Jayaben for Hidden Herstories which documented the impact on society made by four women. (See the Hidden Herstories website here and free copies of the Hidden Herstories DVD are available directly from the Octavia Foundation.)

Related links

Read an obituary in the Guardian (28 December 2010) here

Guardian news story: ‘Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick dispute, dies aged 77’

Hidden Herstories: Women of Change

IRR News review of Hidden Herstories DVD: ‘Young people’s film on women who changed the world’

Download the Hidden Herstories magazine (pdf file, 4.5mb)

Octavia Foundation

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

January 5, 2011
John O:

In Memory Jayaben Desai Valiant leader of the Grunwicks dispute Throughout the summer/Autumn of 1976 every month Birmingham Trades Union Council, laid on coaches to take trade unionists/militants to London to stand on the picket lines at Grunwicks. Over 550 pickets were arrested, many hundreds of pickets were injured/hospitalised by police Special Patrol Group violence the worst ever witnessed. Jayaben Desai, at one stage was charged with assaulting a six foot high police man, Jayaben was only 4 foot eleven inches tall, the judge laughed the charge out of court, saying he couldn’t believe that Jayaben so small compared to the policeman, could have done such a thing.Several hundred demonstrators witnessed her magnificent attack on the police man after she saw him attacking one of the pickets. As ever the dispute in the end was not lost because of the unwillingness of Jayben, her coworkers and the trade unionists to fight to the last. But the betrayal of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), who withdrew their support for the strike, a betrayal so bad that Jayaben went on hunger strike outside the TUC headquarters. All the workers involved in the strike were sacked. Grunwicks was the first ever strike in the UK by a work force that was 95% migrant workers that received the whole hearted support of rank a file militants. They travelled from every corner of the land, the coal miners put on 50/60 coaches each time. On the 11th July, the TUC called a national demonstration in support of Grunwicks. An estimated 50,000 trade unionist/militants and over 2,000 trade union banners were on the demo. As the demonstration assembled, it became clear that the TUC were not going to let the demonstration march past Grunwicks factory. And TUC officials with support of other trade unions prevented a break away from a group who wanted to march past Grunwicks. In June that year UPW blacked the moving of any mail in or out of Grunwicks, blacking lasted for nearly 8 weeks before UPW officials done an about turn and ordered members to move the mail, Grunwicks was a mail order company, everything done by post). The Labour government in power at the time, commissioned the Scarman enquiry, which recommended that all workers should be reinstated and given trade union recognition, but refused to implement the recommendations. I travelled on every coach from Birmingham to the picket line, memories of Jayaben’s resilience and fighting spirit, which I witnessed time and again, have never left me. She inspired me more than any other person I have ever known to remain a trade union militant. John O, Birmingham

January 5, 2011
John O:

In Memory Jayaben Desai Valiant leader of the Grunwicks dispute Throughout the summer/Autumn of 1976 every month Birmingham Trades Union Council, laid on coaches to take trade unionists/militants to London to stand on the picket lines at Grunwicks. Over 550 pickets were arrested, many hundreds of pickets were injured/hospitalised by police Special Patrol Group violence the worst ever witnessed. Jayaben Desai, at one stage was charged with assaulting a six foot high police man, Jayaben was only 4 foot eleven inches tall, the judge laughed the charge out of court, saying he couldn’t believe that Jayaben so small compared to the policeman, could have done such a thing.Several hundred demonstrators witnessed her magnificent attack on the police man after she saw him attacking one of the pickets. As ever the dispute in the end was not lost because of the unwillingness of Jayben, her coworkers and the trade unionists to fight to the last. But the betrayal of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), who withdrew their support for the strike, a betrayal so bad that Jayaben went on hunger strike outside the TUC headquarters. All the workers involved in the strike were sacked. Grunwicks was the first ever strike in the UK by a work force that was 95% migrant workers that received the whole hearted support of rank a file militants. They travelled from every corner of the land, the coal miners put on 50/60 coaches each time. On the 11th July, the TUC called a national demonstration in support of Grunwicks. An estimated 50,000 trade unionist/militants and over 2,000 trade union banners were on the demo. As the demonstration assembled, it became clear that the TUC were not going to let the demonstration march past Grunwicks factory. And TUC officials with support of other trade unions prevented a break away from a group who wanted to march past Grunwicks. In June that year UPW blacked the moving of any mail in or out of Grunwicks, blacking lasted for nearly 8 weeks before UPW officials done an about turn and ordered members to move the mail, Grunwicks was a mail order company, everything done by post). The Labour government in power at the time, commissioned the Scarman enquiry, which recommended that all workers should be reinstated and given trade union recognition, but refused to implement the recommendations. I travelled on every coach from Birmingham to the picket line, memories of Jayaben’s resilience and fighting spirit, which I witnessed time and again, have never left me. She inspired me more than any other person I have ever known to remain a trade union militant. John O, Birmingham

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