Grunwick: The Workers’ Story by Jack Dromey and Graham Taylor (Lawrence & Wishart, £12)
THIS book, published to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike, is the second edition of the original published in 1978, a year after the strike ended.
The narrative is a faithful and meticulous chronological account from the perspective of the workers of the origins, course and outcome of a very important dispute. It’s well worthy of retelling 40 years on.
We’re told in an editorial note that some of the terms in the original have been updated. The example given is that the word “racialism,” commonly used at the time, has been replaced by “racism.”
Unfortunately, Graham Taylor’s new introduction fails to update terminology similarly.
In addition to the original text, there’s a contribution by Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB, included on the grounds that APEX — the union to which the strikers belonged — merged with the GMB in 1989.
But is should be noted that APEX, under the leadership of its then general secretary Roy Grantham, originally supported the strike but changed its mind towards the end of 1977 and withdrew strike pay from the Grunwick workers.
The TUC also initially backed the strike but withdrew its support in June 1978.
Such facts do not detract from the vital importance of commemorating and learning from an almost two-year long heroic struggle, led by Asian women workers, which amazingly attracted mass support from trade unionists at rank-and-file and leadership level, especially from post office workers, printers and miners.
Amazingly, because such support was a very rare occurrence in British trade-union history, given its persistent failure to back strikes by black workers.
That was shown in the Mansfield Hosiery strike in Loughborough in 1972 and the strike at Imperial Typewriters, Leicester, in 1974.
Both of these strikes occurred in the same decade as Grunwick, thus raising the as yet unanswered question of why a dispute led by black and Asian women managed to overcome the racism and sexism clearly apparent historically in the British trade union movement.
Neither the narrative nor the new introduction describe the strike as a failure. But we should rather view it as one which was betrayed at the behest of Jim Callaghan’s Labour government, tamely supported by the right-wing in the union leadership.
It was the very success of the action, and the mass solidarity it engendered, which prompted the state to release the full force of its repressive apparatus including the brutal Special Patrol Group, used at Grunwick for the first time in an industrial dispute.
We must learn from this strike. Clearly, the British state has.