Wednesday, 29 December 2010

2011: We are the Lions

"What you are running 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 those lions, Mr Manager."

When I heard the sad news that Jayaben Desai has passed away on 23rd December I couldn't decide whether her death signalled, once again, the irrevocable decline of the of the British trade union movement or instead provides a helpful narrative from which we can draw lessons for what will be a challenging period ahead.

Whichever your view will depend on the significance that you apportion to the famous Grunwick indistrial dispute of of 1977-78. For many people, including me, the importance of the dispute was the extent to which the dispute, led by Desai, challenged the government with the demand that workers automatically have trade union recognition when the majority of the workforce wanted it.

Although the strike was ultimately broken it became a rallying point for the majority of the British trade union movement and smashed the racist/sexist myth that black and Asian women could not of themselves build for and lead industrial protest.

There is a good (albeit) brief obituary in today's Guardian which I commend to you all of you as an excellent way to pay respects to Jayaben and to prepare for 2011:

I would like to wish you all the very best for 2011 and I look forward to documenting all of the challenges and changes to labour and social movements both in the UK and internationally.



Muhammed said...


Many sincere thanks for ending your blog for 2010 with a posting on the tragic (all too soon) death of Mrs. Desai.

For many people in the British Asian community she was truly the Lion she spoke of. For other Asians, sadly, she was someone to be ashamed of as she had done done as they do, which is to be grateful for the racism that blight our lives still and to bury their head in the sand.

As Jack Dromey rightly recalls in the Guardian obituary, Mrs. Desai hailed from Gujarat. And to say goodbye in Gujarati is આવજો.

So, let us just say goodbye (pronounced 'aayjo') and not mourn the loss. Instead, let us rejoice that this Asian woman taught the British trade union movement of strength, solidarity and courage.


Ian Manborde said...

Hello Ash,

Many thanks for your posting, I am really pleased with what you have written - a great way to move forward rather than just mourn.

I hope we get the chance to meet up in 2011, I haven't had the chance of a catch-up with you for too long!

In the meantime brother, my very best wishes to you, your family and your close network of trade unionists.

Best wishes


ShopSteward85 said...

To my great shame although I was aware of the great importance of the Grunwick dispute I was not aware that this lady was the leader of it.

I have just taken the chance to remind myself of the details of the dispute on the TUC history online website and I now understand why the death of Jayaben Desai is such a tragedy.

I am very surprised that there is no mention of Mrs. Desai's death on the web-site of the TUC or the GMB.

It doesn't surprise me although I will do them the favour of saying that her death occured on 29th Dec.

Having said this though, the 'New Year Message' of Barber was published on 30th. Ironically he made a comment that I think dutifully graces the spirit of the Grunwick dispute and the great contribution that Mrs. Desai made to the trade union movement:

'This is going to be a year when many people suffer, but it just could be the year when the campaign for change really gets going.'

John Clements said...

A fitting tribute to Mrs. Desai and a great note on which to end 2010. With the trade union movement gearing up for a year of protest we have much to remember and learn from Grunwick and much more to put into practice.


Ian Manborde said...

Thanks John,

You have been threatening to make a contribution to the blog for sometime, so I am particularly pleased that you took this item to make your mark.

I wish you and your family well for 2011, and hope that our paths cross at some point in the year.


John Clements said...

Thanks Ian - will try to keep posting items to your blog in 2011.


Jas said...

Well done Ian, a great piece to end 2010 on. Jas.