Jayaben Desai

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Jayaben Desai
Born (1933-04-02)April 2, 1933
Gujarat, India
Died December 23, 2010(2010-12-23) (aged 77)
Nationality British
Ethnicity Indian
Known for trade unionism

Jayaben Desai (2 April 1933 – 23 December 2010) was a prominent leader of the strikers in the Grunwick dispute in London in 1976.[1]

Born in Gujurat, India, Desai moved to Tanzania in 1965, but was then expelled and arrived in Britain, where she took up low-paid work, first as a sewing machinist, then processing film in the Grunwick factory.[1] She resigned after being ordered to work overtime, and instigated a strike among the mainly Asian and female workforce. The strikers protested about working conditions, pay inequality and institutionalised racism within the company.[2]

Desai led the strikers in their epic two-year picket from 1976 to 1978. She had a colourful way with words, for example her parting shot to the boss when she led the walkout: "What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager." [3]

Mrs Desai (as she was always referred to) recorded her thoughts for the Brent Museum archives. In an interview by Hannah Phung of Brent Museum she said: "It was amazing, let me tell you, it was amazing.[…] tears were in my eyes to see these people […] they were hurting themselves and the police were charging them with horses and everything and still they were standing strong."

She was considered remarkable for her defiance of the stereotyping of south Asian women as subservient.[4]

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