A tribute to Jayaben Desai: An unlikely and reluctant star of the British trade union movement

Jayaben Desai, in August 1977, outside the Grunwick factory, where she led a walkout and a long-running strike

DesaiAs one of the sacked women workers employed by Grunwick, a film-processing firm based in north London, Jayaben fought for better pay, conditions and dignity for workers in 1976 and 1977, on behalf of 137 sacked and poorly paid Asian women. At first she and her fellow workers were not in a trade union, but after a visit to the Trades Union Congress, she and her workmates joined Apex, which is now part of the GMB. Their struggle was supported by Brent Trades Council.

This was the beginning of a legendary battle for trade union rights, it was to become a watershed for British trade unionism and Jayaben Desai was to become an inspiration to a generation of trade unionists, and beyond. Famously, she told her factory manager, “What you are running 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 those lions, Mr Manager”. Jayaben Desai, union activist was born 2 April 1933 and died 23 December 2010.

This Black History celebration event will feature Jayaben Desai’s struggle and will allow some prominent modern day trade unionists to describe how she helped to shape their views and working lives. Kamaljeet Jandu will explore lessons for unions from that struggle in meeting the ongoing challenge of ‘organising migrant workers’ today. There will be plenty of time allowed for contributions from the audience.

Speakers Include:    

Tim Roache               General Secretary, GMB

Betty Joseph             Chair, SERTUC Race Relations Committee and NUT

Kamaljeet Jandu     National Equality Officer, GMB (Theme: Organising of, and organising with, migrant workers)

Megan Dobney        SERTUC Regional Secretary

2 October 2017: 5.30pm for 6pm start, concluding with a short drinks reception 8pm-8.30pm

Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

Congress House is a fully accessible building. There is no charge for attending this event

If you wish to attend you must register by contacting sertucevents@tuc.org.uk, by calling 020 7467 1220, or register by post to SERTUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS

 See SERTUC Resources at http://sertucresources.wordpress.com/ for information about other SERTUC events or publications