In 1976 at the Grunwick photo processing plant in North London, the arbitrary and oppressive actions of the managers led to industrial action. The strike would last for two years. The workforce, mainly women from South Asia, led by the extraordinary Jayaben Desai, become the focal point of a nationwide confrontation between the State and Trade Unions. There were brutal clashes between the strikers and the paramilitary Special Patrol Group of the Metropolitan Police, and more arrests than at any dispute since the General Strike of 1926. Nearly thirty years later, Gate Gourmet, a firm making meals for British Airways tried to introduce cheaper agency workers on the production line, threatening the jobs of the six hundred and fifty plus workforce. Once again South Asian Women took action.
In their book Striking Women: Struggles and strategies of South Asian women workers from Grunwick to Gate Gourmet Ruth Pearson (Emeritus Professor of Development Studies, University of Leeds) and Sundari Anitha (Reader in Social and Political Science, University of Lincoln) ask who were the women who fought back at Grunwick and Gate Gourmet? Exploring the contribution of South Asian women to the struggle for workers’ rights in the UK, through interviews and archival investigation, they bring the story to life and reflect on its place in the history of trade unionism, in the development of UK race relations and in the wider pursuit of dignity and equality for all women and all workers.‘This timely and authoritative work is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the social history of industrial relations in Britain since the 1970s. It is rare to be able to describe a book by academic authors as a page-turner but Striking Women is a case in point’ (Professor Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex)
Much of the debate surrounding Brexit has focused on immigration and the role of existing migrants in the UK. Striking Women informs our understanding of how South Asian migrant women have contributed to the UK economy and to the struggle for worker rights. The publication of the book coincides with the fortieth anniversary of the Grunwick strike.