Jayaben Desai was born in April 1933 in Gujarat, a province in India. Upon her marriage to Tanzania-based Suryakant Desai, she migrated to Tanzania. There she joined a prolific community of British subjects of Indian origin, who had long been settled in the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Jayaben Desai took up low-paid factory work in Britain and rose to fame for her activism whilst working at the photographic film-processing factory Grunwick in North London. On Friday 20 August 1976, when Desai was confronted with a last-minute demand for overtime, she responded:
'What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. There are many types of animals in a zoo. Some are monkeys who dance to your tune, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager. I have had enough – I want my freedom!'
A group of workers led by Desai, walked out in protest against their treatment by their managers, and to defend their dignity and rights. The workers were protesting the lack of respect and the indignities they experienced at the hands of the management, as well as poor working conditions. These workers realised that having a trade union at their workplace would help them fight for better rights, and thus they joined one: APEX (Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff). They demanded that Grunwick recognise workers’ right to join trade unions.
Designer: Tayler Pineda @bytppj
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