Monday, 21 April 2014

Commemorating the Grunwick Strike


An area’s regeneration can take different forms, and one of them is surely to offer opportunities for learning and self-education in and about our community. The Birkbeck PopUp University has, in partnership with the Willesden Green Town Team been doing just that over the past weeks, with plenty of stimulating talks scheduled until the end of May on subjects ranging from Willesden’s conscientious objectors in War War I, the history of Britain’s urban public parks and green spaces, and the the politics of social housing in London, as well as regular slots on careers advice, counselling and returning to work and study.
The commemorative plaque at the former Grunwick site
This Thursday 24 April, the PopUp University will be hosting an evening of debate and discussion from 6-8pm on the Grunwick Strike of 1976-78. Together with the 1984-85 miners’ strike, the Grunwick dispute is one of the signal moments in the postwar labour history of this country - and it all unfolded in the back streets of Willesden Green. For a brief but intense period, striking workers in our neighbourhood, led by the emblematic Mrs Jayaben Desai, put collective struggles against racism, patriarchy and workplace exploitation at the centre of national politics.

These struggles are far from over. Although the Grunwick processing plant has long disappeared, episodes like last summer’s Home Office xenophobic van campaign or the Willesden letting agent who was shown to openly discriminate against African-Caribbean would-be tenants remind us of the everyday racism still plaguing our streets. Similarly, our local Homebase cuts costs by using unpaid staff under the ConDem government’s workfare programme, while local Labour politicians rail against striking teachers fighting the privatisaton of our schools.

Thursday’s event therefore aims to be as much a commemoration of the Grunwick strike, as an opportunity to consider its legacies for today’s campaigns for social justice and equality in our neighbourhood and beyond. After screening the documentary “The Great Grunwick Strike”, we’ll be joined for discussion by Pete Firmin from Brent Trades Union Council and Dr Sundari Anitha and Professor Ruth Pearson who coordinated a research project on  “Striking Women: South Asian workers’ struggles in the UK labour market from Grunwick to Gate Gourmet”. The event is completely free, but online registration is required HERE.

The Opening of Birkbeck's PopUp University on Queen's Parade in March

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