Striking Women by Sundari Anitha and Rutha Pearson (Lawrence & Wishart 2018)

Striking Women

Struggles and strategies of South Asian women workers from Grunwick to Gate Gourmet

Mar 2018

‘This timely and authoritative work is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the social history of industrial relations in Britain since the 1970s. It is rare to be able to describe a book by academic authors as a page turner but Striking Women is a case in point.’ - Professor Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

Who were the women who fought back at Grunwick and Gate Gourmet? Striking Women gives a voice to the women involved as they discuss their lives, their work and their trade unions. This work focuses on South Asian women’s contributions to the struggle for workers’ rights in the UK. It is a fascinating insight into two key industrial disputes using interviews with women who participated in the disputes and rarely-seen archival material. 

This book will be published in paperback and hardcover.

Striking Women is centred on two industrial disputes, the famous Grunwick strike (1976-78) and the Gate Gourmet dispute that erupted in 2005. Focusing on these two events, the book explores the nature of South Asian women’s contribution to the struggles for workers’ rights in the UK labour market. The authors examine histories of migration and settlement of two different groups of women of South Asian origin, and how this history, their gendered, classed and racialised inclusion in the labour market, the context of industrial relations in the UK in the two periods and the nature of the trade union movement shaped the trajectories and the outcomes of the two disputes.

This is the first account based on the voices of the women involved. Drawing on life/work history interviews with thirty-two women who participated in the two disputes, as well as interviews with trade union officials, archival material and employment tribunal proceedings, the authors explore the motivations, experiences and implications of these events for their political and social identities.

The two disputes also serve as a prism for examining particular continuities and changes in the industrial relations, trade union practices and their scope for action. This work challenges stereotypes of South Asian women as passive and confined to the domestic sphere, whilst exploring the ways in which their employment experience interacted with their domestic roles. Paying close attention to the events and contexts of their workplace struggles enables us to understand the centrality of work to their identities, the complex relationships between these women and their trade unions and some of the challenges that confront trade unions in their efforts to address issues posed by gender and ethnicity. This is the workers’ story.

‘This timely and authoritative work is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the social history of industrial relations in Britain since the 1970s. It is rare to be able to describe a book by academic authors as a page turner but Striking Women is a case in point. Revisiting the Grunwick and Gate Gourmet disputes of the 1970s and 2000s, it brings south Asian women workers’ life history narratives right to the forefront, revealing complex and nuanced stories of struggles for justice in the workplace as well as struggles over how the two disputes are remembered, by whom and for what purposes. Interviewing research participants in Hindi and offering a well-informed history of south Asian migration to the UK that takes full account of the different class backgrounds, ages and migration histories of the women involved in the two disputes, the book brilliantly critiques earlier accounts of the Grunwick strike. Yet along the way the authors never lose sight of the wider contexts of deindustrialisation, neoliberalism, declining union membership, or the individualisation of workers’ rights. Nor do they pull any punches regarding the failure of trade unions to consistently support the striking women in the two disputes. The book provides intimate insights into the ways in which gender and ethnicity were used against women in both workplaces, for example through attempts to curtail their action by drawing on what were wrongly assumed to be community-policed boundaries of propriety. By continuing its critique into the period after the 2008 financial crisis Striking Women also offers an expertly-informed indictment of contemporary capitalist employment relations in conditions of austerity and the growth of the ‘gig economy’.’ Professor Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex