By: Adam Shaw
A mural of the leader of a landmark workers’ strike in the 1970s has been unveiled in north west London.
Brent Council announced the unveiling of the artwork in Ealing Road depicting Jayaben Desai, a key figure in what became known as the Grunwick dispute.
Jayaben led workers – many of whom were south Asian women – in a long battle for better working conditions at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in Dollis Hill.
Victims of sexism and racism, the staff were often asked to commit to extra shifts on the spot while they “worked in fear” of being reprimanded by bosses.
After being asked to work overtime without warning on one occasion, Jayaben walked out of the place she described as a “zoo” and demanded her “freedom”.
Between 1976 and 1978, she and her fellow staff – dubbed “strikers in saris” by the media – protested against incidents they had witnessed at Grunwick such as unfair sackings, racial prejudice and poor wages.
Have you spotted our new mural in #EalingRoad?
A beautiful tribute to local social activist, Jayaben Desai (2 Apr 1933 – 23 Dec 2010).
Jayaben championed workers rights and was a prominent leader of the strikers in the Grunwick dispute in London in 1976. pic.twitter.com/PxeE4GLOOv
— Brent Council (@Brent_Council) October 14, 2021
They bid for trade union recognition at a time when unions were not always keen to support migrant groups.
This campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, even after Jayaben’s desperate hunger strike outside the Trades Union Congress in November 1977.
However, their efforts inspired similar actions across the country, saw a government inquiry find in favour of the workers and led to some improvements at Grunwick.
It is also seen as a key moment in workers’ rights history in Britain, as it was the first significant protest spearheaded by women from minority communities.
After the dispute, Jayaben said: “Because of us, the people who stayed in Grunwick got a much better deal.
“When the factory moved, the van used to come to their home and pick them up because it was difficult for them to get to the new place. Can you imagine that?
“And they get a pension today. And we get nothing. That was because of us, because of our struggle.”
She was awarded a gold medal by the GMB trade union in 2007 in recognition of her efforts over Grunwick. Jayaben died on 23 December 2010, aged 77.
Brent Council have been contacted for comment.
(Local Democracy Reporting Service)