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Not monkeys but lions

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the Grunwick Strike, new play, tour starts, Jayaben Desai, We are Lions Mr Manager,“Strikers in saris” and their fight for fair treatment.

A new play that relives the extraordinary true story of the Grunwick Strike, a dispute that challenged the way women and immigrants were treated in the workplace, starts touring the UK next month.

On 20 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 the ‘bullying tactics’ used by management.

Led by mostly East African Asian women, the Grunwick strike became one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history, and changed the way trade 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 trade unionists and campaigners, as 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.

The 4 foot 10 inches tall 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”, and 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,” she added. “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 being brought to life as a play for the very first time by Townsend Theatre Productions, who seek to relive the strikers’ inspirational fight for freedom, equality and human dignity.

Written by Neil Gore, the play tells the story of the Grunwick dispute through a mixture of stirring song, poetry, movement and dance.

The play utilises Townsend Production’s trademark cast of two characters playing multiple roles.

Neil Gore, explaining why Jayaben’s story deserves to be told, said: “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.

“Her resolve and courage should be remembered and celebrated.

“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.”

The new play will start the first leg of its national tour in Bedford on 14 October, and will then be performed in cities around the country, including Leeds, Salford, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxford, before finishing back in Bedford on 14 April 2018.

For tour dates and ticket information click here.

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