Grunwick: class unity and the fight for union rights

The Grunwick strike exhibition beautifully marks the 40th anniversary of when Jayaben Desai, a middle-aged Gujarati woman who was a migrant from Tanzania, led a walk out from the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratory in Willesden in 1976.

As you enter the exhibition, you are welcomed with sheets hanging down from the ceiling with images of the strikers standing-off against six-foot policemen. The walls are littered with revolutionary art calling for solidarity amongst workers who were predominantly Gujarati and Afro-Caribbean, as they demanded rights beyond just better wages and working conditions. The exhibition explains the racism the workers went through, being paid a pound an hour less than white workers, with an abusive management and long working hours.

Although the strike was unsuccessful, not because of the resolve of the strikers and Jayaben, but because of the weak trade union and Labour leadership; it goes on to show how workers who continued to be employed at the factory gained pay increases, pensions, and better working conditions. More importantly however it ripped apart a myth that female migrant workers from the Caribbean or India were passive, weak or undercutting wages and conditions, but instead the exact opposite.

The exhibition runs until 27 March at the Brent Museum and Archives near Willesden Green tube station and is open on weekdays from 9am-8pm and 10am-5pm on weekends.

by Ravi Mistry, Central London