Our final event for 2016 looked back at the Grunwick Strike of 1976-1978, one of the most important industrial disputes of the 1970s when a group of mainly Asian women struck for union recognition at the Grunwick film processing plant in Willesden in the hot summer of 1976. At its height in 1977 the dispute brought thousands of trade unionists on to the streets around the factory. There were frequent violent attacks by the police on the pickets. In the end the strike was lost.
We also highlighted the current struggle by 2,700 Teaching Assistants in Durham against a 23% pay cut in their wages, being imposed by Labour-controlled Durham County Council.
On the day our venue, the Annexe at the Working Class Movement Library, was full. On behalf of the Mary Quaile Club Bernadette Hyland welcomed the audience, and explained that the Club was set up to promote working class history and the links with today’s struggles.
We then screened The Great Grunwick Strike, a film made by Chris Thomas in 2007 for Brent Trades Council which combines contemporary footage and photographs with interviews 30 years later with some of the key figures in the strike and supporting organisations.
After this Annette Wright from Manchester Trades Union Council chaired a session with our two guest speakers. Sujata Aurora from the Grunwick 40 Committee, and Lisa Turnbull from the Durham Teaching Assistants campaign.
Sujata talked about some of the issues not covered in the film, including the fact that prior to Grunwick, migrant workers had staged a number of disputes, eg Imperial Typewriters of 1974, which had not been supported by the wider labour movment, indeed had been opposed. She also noted that some of current celebrations of the strike by unions had glossed over the fact that the strike had been lost.
Lisa, in an inspirational speech, spoke about how devastated they had been by the threatened massive cut to their wages, and how their campaign had been built from scratch by themselves using social media, meetings, marching in the Durham Miners’ Gala, and much else. They had gone on strike for 2 days: another strike had just been called off after the local authority appeared to be offering to talk about the issue. They were determined to fight on for victory.
We then enjoyed tea and cakes, over which much informal discussion took place. We took a collection for the Durham dispute which raised over £100
This event was organised in conjunction with Manchester and Salford NUJ, and Manchester Trades Union Council, whom we would like to thank for their support.
The County Durham Teaching Assistants “Value Us campaign. Their official Twitter account is here
The Working Class Movement Library has material on the Grunwick strike including photographs and books.