The vanguard role of South Asian women in some of the British trade union movement’s most significant battles is recognised in a new exhibition launched in time for Black History Month (October 2012).
Developed by Professor Ruth Pearson from the University of Leeds and Dr Sundari Anitha from the University of Lincoln, the project, Striking Women, charts South Asian womens involvement in industrial disputes spanning the Grunwick strike of the late 1970s to the Gate Gourmet walk-out which hit headlines in 2005.
It reveals that far from being docile, apolitical, limited by their domesticity and wholly determined by their culture (as they are often stereotyped), in reality women of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origins have frequently been at the centre of major industrial disputes in the UK over the past half century.
Professor Ruth Pearson, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the University of Leeds, has researched the rights of women workers all over the world throughout her academic career.
Professor Pearson said,
"It is important to acknowledge the role of migrant women as workers as well as in terms of religion, culture and identity. This project gives a voice to the women involved in struggling for their rights in employment and also in trade unions. It is a struggle on behalf of all women and workers, not just minority women, who have made a significant contribution to the modern trade union movement in the UK."
Through photographs, personal testimonies of the strikers, posters and other contemporary sources, the exhibition puts the Grunwick and Gate Gourmet disputes in the wider context of South Asian womens activism in the workplace. It illustrates how migrant South Asian women in the UK have contributed to the pursuit of dignity and equality for all workers.
Dr. Anitha, Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Lincoln, added: "This story isn't just about the history of one group of people, it's about the history of workers rights in Britain. The struggles these women faced are the same struggles many millions of people of different backgrounds have faced to secure fair pay and conditions over the decades.
The exhibition runs from 22 Sept to 7 Oct at Brent Library, Wembley, before travelling to schools and community venues across London, Leicester and Manchester.
'Striking Women: South Asian workers' struggles in the UK labour market - from Grunwick to Gate Gourmet' is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Image credit: TUC Archive / London Metropolitan University
Professor Ruth Pearson (email@example.com) is available for interview.
Contact: Rachel Barson, Press Officer, University of Leeds, +44 113 343 2060 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Q&A on Saturday 29 September, 3.30pm 4.30pm, Brent Library
Professor Ruth Pearson and Dr Sundari Anitha will be giving a talk about Grunwick and the Gate Gourmet disputes, and their significance in challenging preconceptions about South Asian women.
The travelling exhibition will be available for schools or community groups across the UK from November. Organisations interested in arranging a visit should contact Dr Sundari Anitha on email@example.com