Labour-run Brent Council's housing ALMO, the Brent Housing Partnership, has decided to honour the Grunwick strike with a plaque.
Some readers will be too young to remember that Chapter Road in Willesden was the site of the strike in 1977 at the Grunwick film processing factory. The strike was defeated due to the loyalty of a large majority of the predominantly Asian and West Indian workforce of the company, which was founded by the Indian immigrant, George Ward.
A Gallup poll of the 260 Grunwick employees found that 83% did not want to be represented by a union and 80% did not want Mr Ward to take back those he had sacked, who had demanded union recognition. The court decided that Mr Ward should not be obliged to recognise the unions against the wishes of his workforce. Jayaben Desai, who started the strike, represented a small minority.
Yet the unions didn't care what the workers thought. Mass picketing was organised by Jack Dromey (now a Labour MP and the Shadow Housing Minister.) The Grunwick strike was mocked as the "Ascot of the Left." Agitprop enthusiasts from the Socialist Workers Party, the National Union of Students and the Communist Party found it conveniently near Dollis Hill tube station and the outing became part of the radical chic. The place to see and be seen.
Less amusing was the violence that took place against the police during the mass picketing undertaken by the bully boys of the far left. Sometimes thousands of pickets crammed into the narrow street. Workers faced intimidation and came home to find "scab" painted on the wall. They became more determined than ever to keep going.
The Leader of the Opposition Margaret Thatcher asked:
What action does the Prime Minister propose to take to protect the right of the law-abiding citizen to go peacefully to work?
The Post Office union arranged for the Cricklewood sorting office to refuse to send out mail from Grunwick. But this was foiled when volunteers from the Freedom Association arranged for the post to be dispatched from a barn in Burford.
Eventually the pickets gave up.The victory helped Margaret Thatcher on her way to Downing Street. It showed both how ugly the threat of union militancy was, and that it was possible for it to be defeated. Mob rule did not prevail.
Many lies were told about Mr Ward and his company. Two decades on they persisted. This apology from The Guardian in 2010 give a flavour:
Strikers in saris
In a caption on this gallery we wrongly stated that, at the time of the 1976-78 strike, conditions at Grunwick Processing Ltd were "appalling". We also stated that "the pay was poor, employees had to put their hands up if they wanted to use the toilet, and overtime was compulsory". In fact, as the 1977 Scarman inquiry concluded, physical working conditions in the company before the strike were good; although the rates of pay were low prior to the strike, the company increased financial benefits paid to workers in November 1976 and April 1977 so that at the time of his report Lord Scarman noted that the rates of pay were broadly comparable with, and in some respects, slightly better than, those paid by comparable firms in the industry; it was not necessary to seek permission to go to the toilet after the company moved premises in 1976; and employees understood and accepted the requirement of compulsory overtime during busy periods. We apologise to Grunwick and its chairman, George Ward.
One think the Socialists got right was that the dispute mattered. As Mr Ward wrote in 1977:
"Grunwick has become an exceptional nuisance to those who see Britain's future as that of a collectivist, corporate state, in which any business can be obliged to surrender and brute force."
Sadly Mr Ward died earlier this year so the Brent Housing Partnership don't need to worry about what they say about him.
Anyway the site is now being used for housing – most will be for home ownership. Good news. What better way to mark Thatcherism by buying a house on the scene of this victory against the unions. Yet what an abuse of Brent Council to spend public money on such dishonest and extremist propaganda.