Monday, July 10, 2017

Homer Sykes | The Grunwick Dispute 1977 "We are the Lions"

Homer Sykes
The Grunwick Dispute 1977 "We are the Lions" 
Southport, UK: Café Royal Books, 2017
36 pp., 14 cm x 20 cm., staple-bound
Edition of 200

On the fortieth anniversary of the mid-point of a two year strike, Café Royal Books launched this title  last month, from Canadian-born British photographer Homer Sykes.

The Grunwick dispute was a labour action pitting Jayaben Desai (1933 – 2010) and her co-workers against the owners of the Grunwick film processing plant in Willesden, London.  Desai resigned after being force to work overtime, and instigated a strike protesting working conditions, pay inequality, and institutionalized racism within the company.

The slim volume of photographs from the era takes it's title from Desai's retort to her manager, who accused the (mostly female and Asian) employees of being 'chattering monkeys':

"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 those lions, Mr Manager."

Over five hundred arrests were made during the strike, the highest number in any industrial dispute since the General Strike of 1926. The violent clashes between police and the strikers were the subject of nightly news broadcasts, which characterized the dispute as "strikers in saris".

Despite wide support, the fired staff were not reinstated by the company. The dispute served to weaken the British trades union movement and emboldened the Conservative Party. The incoming Thatcher government outlawed secondary picketing, created a database of activists for the purposes of surveillance, and generally curbed the power of the unions in the eighties.

But solidarity for the striking Asian women came from other trade labour unionists. Miners joined the picket lines in the thousands, and postal workers halted all deliveries to the factory. This involvement of white, working class men in support of Asian women strikers is now viewed as a turning point in race relations in the United Kingdom.

The title is available from the publisher, here, for 6.00 GBP.

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