Jayaben Desai by Mr Cenz

Brent Council worked with Artists in Residence to produce a mural on a site on Ealing road in Wembley which required some improvement. The mural needed to add colour to the area and celebrate a local hero.

Painted by Mr Cenz,  the lady in the mural is Jayaben Desai. Jayaben Desai (2 April 1933 – 23 December 2010) was a prominent leader of the strikers in the Grunwick dispute in London in 1976.

Born in Dharmaj, Gujarat, India, Desai moved to Tanzania, East Africa, in 1956. At the age of twenty two, she married Suryakant, a factory owner. The couple were from middle class mercantile backgrounds. They later moved to Britain before the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 made it harder for British passport holders from former British colonies to enter the country.

In Britain, she had to take up low-paid work, first as a sewing machinist, then processing film in the Grunwick factory.  She resigned after being ordered to work overtime, and instigated a strike among the mainly Asian and female workforce. The strikers protested about working conditions, pay inequality and institutionalised racism within the company. Women were even asked why they needed to go to the toilet, and Desai counselled her colleagues not to be intimidated by this.

Desai was an inspiring speaker and well-known speaker, speaking out against racist and sexist comments aimed at her and at the other striking workers, and criticising what she felt was a lack of support from the Trades Union Congress for her cause.