Remembering Jayaben Desai and Grunwick

IF you are old enough to remember the Grunwick strike of 1976 to 78, you will recognise the name Jayaben Desai, whose inspiring story is told in  We Are The Lions, Mr Manager, coming to Dorchester Arts at the Corn Exchange on 16th February, Bridport Arts Centre on 17th and Halstock village hall with Artsreach on 23rd.

Jayaben Desai not only stood up for workers’ rights and against oppression with selfless dedication, but with her steadfast resolve, she turned the dispute into a national movement for human rights and dignity inspiring future generations.

She was recently amongst the women who have had the biggest impact on women’s lives over the past 70 years as part of BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour Power List. She brought the issue of workplace exploitation and racism to the fore, challenged the perception of Asian women being inherently passive and docile, and got the measure of the most brutish and charmless of her managers.

She famously told them: “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!”

Townsend Productions writer Neil Gore says: “In our work we aim to focus on the lives and contributions of inspirational and vital figures from our social history, often forgotten, who campaigned vigorously to improve the quality of life for everyone. Jayaben Desai is one such figure. She tirelessly fought on behalf of immigrant workers against exploitative employment practice; fearlessly faced all the elements of establishment authority; alerted many in the trade union movement to the issues of vulnerability of immigrant workers; and highlighted the fight to maintain basic trade union rights. Also, Grunwick raised many wide-ranging questions about trade unionism, rights in the workplace and dignity at work – themes that still resonate and are relevant today.”

Actress Medhavi Patel says: “I am so excited to be playing Jayaben Desai in this important play about the Grunwick Strike. I am a distant relative of Jayaben’s, and although I didn’t know her personally her story is one that inspires me as a woman from a Gujarati background.

“I think there are so many hidden role models within Indian culture. There are so many amazing women and men in our communities doing some amazing things but you don’t hear about them.

We Are The Lions, Mr Manager, will also be at the Hen & Chicken, Bristol, on 6th April.