Jayaben Desai

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Jayaben Desai
Born(1933-04-02)April 2, 1933
Gujarat, India
DiedDecember 23, 2010(2010-12-23) (aged 77)
Known fortrade 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 Gujarat, India, Desai moved to Tanzania, East Africa, in 1956, and later migrated to 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 often formed memorable phrases; 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] After the abortive hunger strike outside the Trades Union Congress headquarters in November 1977 she remarked: "Trade Union support is like honey on the elbow - you can smell it, you can feel it, but you cannot taste it."

Mrs Desai (as she was always referred to) recorded her thoughts for the Brent Museum and 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."

On 14 December 2016 she was named as one of seven women chosen by BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour for their 2016 Power List, which was topped by Margaret Thatcher and also included Helen Brook, Barbara Castle, Germaine Greer, Bridget Jones and Beyoncé.[4]


  1. ^ a b Dromey, Jack (28 December 2010). "Jayaben Desai obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 January 2011.
  2. ^ http://www.movinghere.org.uk/galleries/histories/asian/politics/grunwick.htm Jeyaben Desai part in the Grunwick Dispute
  3. ^ "Jayaben Desai Biography at The Institute of Race Relations". Archived from the original on 2007-09-04.
  4. ^ "Margaret Thatcher tops Woman's Hour Power List", BBC News, 14 December 2016.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Wilmer, Val, "The first preference is pride" (interview with Jayaben Desai), Time Out, 15–21 September 1978, pp. 14–15.

External links[edit]