Grunwick revisited

TOWNSEND Theatre returns to Poole’s Lighthouse on Thursday 16th November with the new show, We Are the Lions, Mr Manager.

The play relives the extraordinary true story of the Grunwick Strike, a dispute that challenged the way women and immigrants are treated in the workplace, as Jayaben Desai fought for union recognition and equality.

On the 20th August 1976, a group of workers in a film processing factory in Willesden walked out in protest at their unfair working conditions, low pay and “bullying tactics” used by the management.

Led by mostly East African Asian women, the Grunwick strike became one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history, changing the way trades unions thought about race and new immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

The women became known as the “strikers in saris” and their fight for fair treatment was supported by thousands of trades unionists and campaigners. More than 20,000 people joined them at the picket lines on one of the mass pickets.

But the story of the Grunwick dispute is not just a story about ground-breaking solidarity. It is also the story of a remarkable woman, Jayaben Desai.

At just four foot ten inches tall, the mother-of-two defiantly led the first walk-out in protest against the humiliation she and other women employees felt at the Grunwick factory.

As she left, the manager shouted at Jayaben and her colleagues to “stop chattering like monkeys in a zoo” .  Jayaben replied: “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 finger-tips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager!”

Jayaben became the leader of the Grunwick Strike and not only stood up for workers’ rights with selfless dedication, but with her steadfast resolve, she turned the dispute into a national movement for human rights, inspiring future generations and challenging the way people perceived Asian women.

Now, Jayaben’s story is brought to life by Townsend Theatre, inviting the audience to relive the strikers’ inspirational fight for freedom, equality and human dignity.

Written by Neil Gore, the story is told through a mixture of stirring song, poetry, movement and dance, and utilises Townsend’s trademark cast of two characters in multiple roles.

We Are the Lions, Mr Manager is directed by Louise Townsend and the musical director is John Kirkpatrick. It features Medhavi Patel and Neil Gore.

For more information, telephone  01202 280000  or visit the website,

The production returns to the south west on 16th February at Dorchester Corn Exchange, 17th at Bridport Arts Centre, 22nd at the Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington, and 23rd February at Halstock Village Hall.