Having seen a link on Facebook, and knowing nothing about either the Grunwick dispute or Jayaben Desai, I went to the Tricycle Cinema in Kilburn last Sunday to learn all about them. The Brent TUC produced ‘The Great Grunwick Strike 1976-1978: A History’ and held a special screening of it, in tribute to the late Jayaben Desai, leader of the strike.
The film is really well made and a really good resource for understanding class struggle. It’s holistic in its representation and uses interviews and original footage to describe the events, personalities, decisions and betrayals that all contributed to the dispute and its outcomes. It’s really worth watching, as it brings you very quickly into the heart of the problem and exposes what the struggle was about.
The film’s strength, like the strike, is its grounding in strong and clear class politics, which manage to overcome every social division that normally separate us. All aspects of the strike questioned the traditional workings of the Trade Union movement at the time; it was led by a mostly female, immigrant, grass-roots workforce who were simply demanding union recognition. The film shows the importance of the action and the collective change that can result from such a struggle.
The Grunwick Strike brought people together, up and down the country, across races and genders, ultimately transforming it from a small dispute in North London into a national struggle for union rights and a wholesale fight against the State and the Tory government who were so determined to defeat it.
The filmmaker, Chris Thomas, has managed to capture the clear understanding of the striking workers — and of their many supporters from Yorkshire miners to Observer journalists — who could all see what battle was being played out through this dispute; the battle between capital and labour.
The most impressive aspect of the film, I thought, was the analysis of the State’s role in the dispute. The filmmaker has managed to convey the varied and multiple attacks by all the authorities; the police using violence on the picket lines and arresting organisers, the media spinning lies to control public opinion, and the judiciary making special laws to get the boss off the hook — it’s all in the film, and all explained clearly and effectively. This aspect of the film helps to frame the dispute in a wider context and illustrates a number of wider lessons that we should be aware of and be able to deal with when taking action ourselves.
The Brent Trades Council’s production of ‘The Great Grunwick Strike 1976-1978: A History’ is a moving and important historical document. I hope to show it at my university next term because I think there’s a lot to be learnt from the Grunwick Strike, and people should be able to have access to this history and learn from what’s gone before.
Contact the Brent TUC, by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’re interested in getting a copy of the DVD.