The Grunwick strike
Lecturer: Prof Sundari Anitha, University of Lincoln
April 13, 2021
Dominant representations of South Asian women in Britain locate them within their family and community lives; the women themselves are constructed as passive, confined to the domestic sphere and lacking agency. Their roles as citizens, as workers and as active members of trade unions who have contributed to the struggles for workers’ rights in the UK is elided in historical accounts and contemporary popular discourses. The Grunwick strike that took place in the late 1970s was one of the many occasions when South Asian women fought for their rights as workers. The focus of this session the Grunwick strike and its legacy for the broader struggles against racism and exploitation at work.
- Anitha, S. and Parmar, M. (undated) ‘On the picket line: Jayaben Desai from East Africa to Grunwick’, Our Migration Story.
- Anitha, s. and Pearson, R. (2021) 'The Grunwick protests: remembering the 1970s strike for migrant workers’ rights', BBC History Magazine.
- Anitha, S., Pearson, R. and McDowell, L. (2018) From Grunwick to Gate Gourmet: South Asian Women’s industrial activism and the role of trade unions. Revue Francaise de Civilisation Britannique. XXIII-1 | Online since 20 March 2018.
- Educational resources on migration, history of women and work and on the Grunwick dispute: www.striking-women.org
- The comic Striking Women: https://www.striking-women.org/sites/striking-women.org/files/striking_women_for_download_opt.pdf
- BBC Radio 4: Great Lives – On Jayaben Desai, the leader of the Grunwick dispute: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09yddxk
Questions for Discussion
- Why was there a need for organising specifically by women?
- Who were the women involved in the Grunwick strike? How did their location at the intersection of gender, race and class shape their experience of oppression and exploitation at work?
- Though the Grunwick strikers failed to meet their objectives, why do we consider their struggles an important moment in British labour history?
- What is outsourcing, and how did this effect the experiences of the women workers at Gate Gourmet?
- What challenges do workers face in contemporary UK?