'Strikers in saris' iconic Brit-Indian trade unionist Jayaben Desai dies at 77

Posted By: Manoj Kumar Ramesh
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London, Dec 28 (ANI): Jayaben Desai, the Brit-Indian trade unionist whose bold leadership of the Grunwick dispute in the late 1970s produced a landmark in industrial relations, has died at the age of 77.

According to The Guardian, Desai, who died just before Christmas after several months of illness, was known for her force of character, eloquence and courage.

She had led a walkout of the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in the summer of 1976 in an attempt to convince managers to recognise a unionised workforce.

She earned a national recognition after her strong leadership gave voice to the women workers, who became known in the press as "strikers in saris", and carried out the fight for their demands for over two years, the paper said.

Desai's attempt to achieve union recognition for the Grunwick workers was ultimately unsuccessful, ending in a hunger strike outside the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress, which she accused of betrayal in 1978. However, the strike managed to draw everybody's attention towards the overlooked plight of female migrant workers, and generated admiration for Desai's tenacity, the paper added.

The paper quoted Jack Dromey MP, who was secretary of the Brent Trades Council during the dispute and a close comrade of Desai, as saying that she was 4feet 11 inches tall, but an "absolute lioness."

A photograph of her confronting a row of police officers, a handbag dangling from her arm, reportedly became one of the iconic images of the 1970s. (ANI)

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