Tributes paid to union stalwart who led groundbreaking dispute in Willesden

Asian woman is credited with improving the work conditions for migrant workers

A FEMALE union activist who led a dispute in the borough that paved the way for better conditions for manual workers has died.

Jayaben Desai was at the forefront of the Grunwick dispute in Chapter Road, Willesden, where the predominately female factory employees protested against their bosses refusal to recognise their union status in 1976.

The action was a culmination of the sacking of a colleague that resulted in two workers walking out and grievances over pay and work conditions.

Mrs Desai, who died aged 77 on December 23, led the workers, who were mainly Asian and black, into downing tools and picketing the company for almost two years.

The workers were members of the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff (Apex) so trade unionists from across the country showed their support by joining them at the picket line.

The dispute eventually ended in 1978 with Grunwick, who specialised in film processing, still refusing to accept their union status and sacking protesting employees.

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However, the dismissed workers claimed they had scored a moral victory.

An inquiry into the dispute by Lord Scarman recommended Grunwick should recognise the union and protestors should be reinstated but the company failed to do so.

Mrs Desai was awarded a citizenship award from Brent Council several years ago.

Paying tribute to the 4ft 11 union stalwart, Cllr Ann John, leader of the council, described her as a remarkable and courageous woman who improved the lives of workers.

She said: “Jayaben Desai inspired a whole generation of women workers; but more than that she was a great Brent citizen who worked tirelessly throughout her life to improve the lives of local people whatever their background

“She was a truly remarkable and courageous woman who led her fellow workers in an epic battle against the exploitation of migrant workers.

“Brent is a better place because of people like Jayaben Desai and that was recognised a few years ago when she came to the town hall to receive a Brent Citizenship Award”.

Were you involved in the Grunwick protest and do you remember Jayaben Desai?

If so you can call the newsteam on 020 7433 6228 or email