rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » Business » Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

Last updated on: December 28, 2010 15:43 IST

Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

     Next

Next
Prasun Sonwalkar in London

Jayaben Desai, a feisty Indian-origin woman who became an icon of the struggle of migrant women workers in the 1970s and provided a fillip to the trade union movement in Britain, has died aged 77.

Desai is best known for her bold leadership of the famous Grunwick dispute in Willesden, London, in the late 1970s.

She died just before Christmas after several months of illness. She led Indian-origin migrant workers in protests and demonstrations.

The group came to be known as 'strikers in saris'. Desai led a walkout of the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in the summer of 1976 in an attempt to convince managers to recognise a unionised workforce.

Desai's defiant two-year campaign gained national recognition.

Click on NEXT to read more...


Image: Inset: Jayaben desai.

     Next

Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Desai was born in Gujarat, from where she moved first to Tanzania, and then, in 1969, to Britain.

Like her, most of the workers at Grunwick were East African Asians recently arrived in Britain, many of them women, who were employed as cheap labour.

No union was allowed at Grunwick, where the white management controlled the workers through threats, insults and harassment.

On August 20, 1976, following yet another rude instruction to do overtime, Desai, together with her son, Sunil, walked out.

Her famous parting words to the manager were: "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 finger-tips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."

Click on NEXT to read more...



Prev     Next

Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

Prev     Next
Prev

Next

Outside she joined up with four other workers who had also left earlier that day in protest at conditions at Grunwick.

Together the six workers joined the APEX union, and with support from local black political groups and local union backing they started picketing the factory.

Soon there were 137 workers on strike, protesting about the conditions at Grunwick and calling for union recognition.

Desai became a national figure on TV speaking to hundreds of miners, postal workers, car workers and others in front of the Grunwick factory.

Jack Dromey MP, who was secretary of the Brent Trades Council during the dispute and a close associate of Desai, told The Guardian: "She was 4ft 11 tall, but an absolute lioness. A quite remarkable woman with an absolutely extraordinary turn of phrase."

Click on NEXT to read more...



Prev     Next

Jaya Desai, leader of UK's 'strikers in saris', dies

Prev     More
Prev

More

He recalled how Desai stood before a meeting of more than 80 "husbands, fathers and brothers" of women who worked at Grunwick after it was alleged they had been discouraged from joining the picket lines.

Dromey said: "I will never forget how she said: 'We, the women, are determined to make a stand and nobody will get in the way of that, including from within our own families."

"Desai's attempt to achieve union recognition for the Grunwick workers was ultimately unsuccessful, but the strike proved a seminal moment in the British labour movement, drawing attention to the overlooked plight of female migrant workers and generating admiration for Desai's tenacity," The Guardian said in its obituary.



Prev     More
© Copyright 2014 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.