‘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.’ Jayaben Desai
The Grunwick strike […] came at a time when trade unions were beginning to be challenged on their failure to address racism and sexism, and it was the first time foreign-born and ethnic minority workers were accepted as part of a largely white, male trade union movement.
Suppliers of photographic paper and processing chemicals refused to do business with Grunwick, the print unions refused to print materials in newspapers that described the strikers as thugs, drivers working for the police refused to drive them to Chapter Road and even members of the National Union of Bank Employees moved to stop handling Grunwick’s bank accounts …
…one of the most celebrated acts of solidarity in trade union history. In June 1977, following violent scenes on the picket lines, UPW [the Union of Postal Workers] members at the Cricklewood and Willesden sorting offices re-instated an unofficial boycott of Grunwick mail.
Although the strikers used methods that initially seemed to work, such as the postal boycott and mass picketing, they ultimately found they had to battle forces on their own side.
The unions’ desire to control the direction of the dispute, and negotiate with a company that had no wish to do so, meant that the strikers and their supporters became isolated.
Perhaps the most important lesson of Grunwick is that we cannot rely on legislation or leaders to guarantee rights. Pay and conditions need to be fought for, while industry leaders will use all of their resources to protect their interests. In this context, reclaiming the solidarity we saw at Grunwick has never been more important.
The work reproduced here was originally featured at Grunwick 40 – the writing offers a selection of text from the exhibition itself, and the images were produced during a communal print workshop hosted at the space. | grunwick40.wordpress.com