Sujata Aurora, from the Grunwick 40, said: "Jayaben Desai's story and the story of the Grunwick Strike is one that needs to be told for generations to come. I remember as a child seeing the photograph of Jayaben with her hand in the air and the trade union band around her arm, and when I look back now it is an incredibly moving memory for me. Jayaben and the Grunwick Strikers showed Asian women that they can stand up and fight for what they believe in, and incredible things can be done when we work together. 

"Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dispute, and as the strikers get older, recognition of what they achieved is fading in the public's memory. We are passionate about keeping those memories alive, as what the Grunwick strikers experienced is still relevant in the workplace today."


‘We Are The Lions, Mr. Manager!’ is the story of the Grunwick Film Processing Factory Strike of 1976-78 and the inspirational strike-leader Jayaben Desai, one of many newly arrived British passport-holding Asian Gujurati workers expelled from Uganda and Tanzania in East Africa four years before.

In 1976 a group of workers in a backstreet London factory, in Willesden, stood up to their bosses and kick-started one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history. Led by Asian women, the Grunwick strike challenged stereotypes, changed the face of traditionally white, male trade unions, and inspired others to speak out against injustice.

Grunwick wasn’t just a strike about wages and conditions – it was about something much more important than that: it was about dignity. Dignity at work. These women had been employed by the Grunwick factory bosses in the belief that they would be easy to handle, to browbeat and to exploit. Yet, they found their own distinctive voice in the course of the struggle to secure their rights.

The strike leader, Jayaben Desai had the measure of the most brutish and charmless of her managers, when she told them: ‘What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager!’

Neil Gore (writer) said: “In our work we aim to focus on the lives and contributions of inspirational and vital figures from our social history, often forgotten, who campaigned vigorously to improve the quality of life for everyone. Jayaben Desai is one such figure. She tirelessly fought on behalf of immigrant workers against exploitative employment practice; fearlessly faced all the elements of establishment authority; alerted many in the trade union movement to the issues of vulnerability of immigrant workers; and highlighted the fight to maintain basic trade union rights. Her resolve and courage should be remembered and celebrated. Also, Grunwick raised many wide-ranging questions about trade unionism, rights in the workplace and dignity at work - themes that still resonate and are relevant today.”

Medhavi Patel (actress) said: “I am so excited to be playing Jayaben Desai in this important play about the Grunwick Strike. I am a distant relative of Jayaben's, and although I didn't know her personally her story is one that inspires me as a woman from a Gujarati background.

“I think there are so many hidden role models within Indian culture. There are so many amazing women and men in our communities doing some amazing things but you don't hear about them.

“Jayaben's story is one that deserves to be told again and again, and I am honoured to be playing her.

“Jayaben is such an important character and I want to do her justice. Although Jayaben passed away a few years ago I would love to make her and her family proud. I want to depict what she went through in a real way and for people to see the struggles faced by the Grunwick strikers and immigrant workers in the present day.”

Grunwick made history:

1. it focused the issue of the exploitation of immigrant workers
2. it nailed the myth that Asian workers were passive
3. it showed how a section of totally unorganised workers, ignorant of trade unionism and insecure in a foreign land can develop militancy and attract huge solidarity
4. it defined the trade union and political lives of tens of thousands from across the nation who came to the streets of Willesden to back the Grunwick workers.
5. it showed too that all the forces of the state, the media, the police, the courts, employers, racial prejudice and women’s inequality can be swept aside by the freshness and dynamism of determined struggle.

This is social history presented in Townsend Productions’ imaginative, particpatory, engaging style with songs and music of the 1970s.

Grunwick still poses questions to today’s generation about the role in society of women, workers and immigrants. And the strike still carries a challenging message about the need for human dignity.

jayaben image


The Partners for this project so far :

The Place Bedford - rehearsal space and time, casting and marketing

Tara Arts – in S.W. London; founded in 1977 to creatively reflect the infinite variety of modern Britain, they currently lead the consortium of Black Theatre Live – they will assist in casting and marketing

Harrogate Theatre – set building and marketing

Luton Hat Factory – casting and marketing

Ruskin College, Oxford – production development, education and marketing

GMB – marketing, publicity, education and contact with school/college programmes

Unite the Union – fund-raising, marketing and education

Other unions – some financial/marketing assistance