Around 100 people packed into a lecture theatre in SOAS on 2nd November for a screening of “The Great Grunwick Strike” film followed by a panel discussion. The audience included several people who had been present at the strike as supporters as well as family members of some of the Grunwick strikers.
Sujata Aurora, chair of Grunwick 40, started off the discussion by outlining some of the context of racism in the 1970s which made the solidarity from white workers all the more significant, and spoke of how the commemorations for the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike were more relevant than ever in a time where we are seeing increasing racial division and an increase in hostility towards foreign-born workers.
Writer and activist Amrit Wilson told of her experiences supporting the strikers on the picket lines and how she she became friends with Jayaben Desai who implored her to write about the racism that they faced. She also spoke about how both the film and some of the recent and planned coverage of the strike tended to focus on individuals within the strike rather than portraying them as part of a broader movement for justice and workers’ rights.
Conseulo Moreno of the SOAS Justice for Cleaners campaign spoke, with the aid of an interpreter, about the 10-year fight against outsourcing at SOAS and how the cleaners were campaigning to have their service brought in-house, be paid London Living Wage and given the same rights as other employees of the university. She related the shocking incident from 2009, of how some of the cleaners who had been at the forefront of the campaign were detained and then deported after the cleaning contractor had summoned them to an “emergency staff meeting” which was then raided by immigration officials.
A lively discussion, ably chaired by Parvathi Raman, followed with participants asking probing questions on the history of the strike; what made Grunwick different to the other strikes that the unions had failed to support; how and why did the racist ideas of white workers change and how can we use the lessons of history to rebuild solidarity today?
Thanks to the SOAS Centre for Migration and Disapora Studies who co-hosted the event along with Grunwick 40 and to all who came and made this such a stimulating evening.
The SOAS cleaners continue their struggle and you can support them via their Facebook page.