Grunwick Strike 1977
One of Britain's most important industrial disputes took place at Grunwick Photo Processing Plant in Willesden. It lasted nearly two years, from August 1976 and July 1978, regularly hitting the national news headlines.
The strike began in the summer of 1976. Grunwick was a small firm employing many female and Asian staff. The staff claimed that pay and conditions were poor and some walked out. One was Mrs Jayaben Desai, who had refused to do forced overtime. She picketed the plant and asked other workers to sign a petition asking for union recognition.
More than 130 workers joined the strikers. Over the next two years, Mrs Desai became a spokesperson for the strikers. On the other side was the factory's owner, George Ward. He had always said that he would rather see the plant close than let in a union.
In response, workers from other industries supported the strike and picketed the factory. Post Office staff tried to stop delivering undeveloped film to the factory to be processed, but their actions were deemed illegal and had to stop.
The dispute sometimes became violent. Each side accused the other of intimidation and assault. The police were accused of taking the side of the factory management and being violent towards strikers. Grunwick was the first time that the Special Patrol Group, a Metropolitan Police unit set up to deal with serious crime, intervened in a trade dispute. On 7th November 1977, over 8,000 people protested. 243 were treated for injuries (12 had broken bones) and 113 were arrested.
The dispute was called off on 14th July 1978. None of the 130 or so workers who had been sacked during the strike werer reinstated and no trade union were allowed in Grunwick.
For a while, the strike seemed as if it would be successful, but in the end it failed. The union leaders said that insiders in the TUC forced them to withdraw their support.
However the strike was important because it showed employers that, just like male white employees, Asian women could be strong enough to stand up for themselves if they were treated badly.
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