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1977: Home Secretary jeered on picket line

Home Secretary Merlyn Rees has appealed for calm following two weeks of violent clashes outside the Grunwick film processing factory in north London.

Mr Rees was visiting the factory in Willesden where between 500 and 600 pickets were gathered at the two entrance gates watched over by a similar number of police.

Inside the factory, Managing Director George Ward has admitted for the first time that the refusal of local postal workers to accept outgoing mail from the company is beginning to bite.

The pickets have complained of police violence and antagonism and say they have been prevented from speaking to workers being driven into the plant by bus.

They are demanding recognition for their union, APEX - the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staffs.

The protest began last August led by an Asian worker Jayaben Desai. Her son was claiming unfair dismissal from the factory and she had just walked out of her own job in a dispute with the management.

Mrs Desai took advice from Brent Trades Council, which encouraged her to fight for union recognition at the factory.

Mr Rees arrived at the main gate in Chapter Road to angry shouts of "police out" from the waiting crowd.

He insisted the heavy police presence was necessary.

"All the police want to do is provide the circumstances where this lady can talk to the people going in and if they don't want to listen, they have the right to go in. That's the law," he added.

Mr Rees said mediation was the only way forward.

Strike leaders have said they will reduce the pickets while talks take place between Mr Ward and Employment Secretary Albert Booth, but if common ground cannot be achieved, they will return to mass picketing.

In Context
The Grunwick dispute lasted for almost two years.

On a particularly brutal day in November 1977, when 8,000 people turned out to protest, 243 pickets were treated for injuries, 12 had broken bones and 113 were arrested.

Jayaben Desai and three other workers went on hunger strike.

The conciliation and arbitration service ACAS was eventually forced to withdraw from the dispute faced with lack of co-operation from the management.

The strikers called off the dispute on 14 July 1978. None of the 130 or so workers sacked during the strike was reinstated.

Trade union analysts say the strike was important in raising the profile of women and Asian workers. They also credit Grunwick with putting industrial action back on the map.


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