Grunwick Timeline

The Grunwick time line shows the chronology of events at the Grunwick photo processing plant in North West London. It covers the establishment of the factory by owner George Ward, and the events that led to the walk out by workers and the strike that lasted for three years from August 1976 until July 1978. It shows how the strikers, under the leadership of Jayaben Desai fought for the right to organise trade unions at their workplace, and for better conditions and pay.  It also shows how support form other trade unions reach a pinnacle in the mass pickets of 1977only to be reversed as the TUC and some union leaders decided that the strikers demands could not be achieved.  sufficient. This information is based on Graham Taylor (1978) Grunwick: the Workers’ Story:  Lawrence & Wishart  ,  London, as well as from the personal testimonies of the strikers and archival records. See also for a fuller version of this time line.

  • 1965

    March:  Grunwick FilmProcessing Laboratories  established by George Ward with Tony Grundy and John Hickey.  Ward  is the Chairman and the chief spokesperson. 

  • 1969

    Jayaben Desai (the future leader of the strike) and family join her husband from Bombay, having left Tanzania in 1964.   

  • 1972

    Grunwick moved to Cobbald Road, in Willesden London NW10.

  • 1973

    First dispute for union recognition at Grunwick (some workers who had joined the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) were made redundant.

  • 1974

    Jayaben Desai starts working at Grunwick. 

  • 1975

    Grunwick leases additional  premises at Chapter Road (Dollis Hill) , London NW2  from Brent Council

  • August 1976

    20 August: Devshi Bhudia is sacked and three other young men walk out of Grunwick mail order department in Chapter Road in protest.

    Jayaben Desai and son Sunil walk out in protest at unacceptable treatment by management.

    23 August: Other workers join the Desais on the picket line.

    Sunil Desai goes to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to find a Trade Union. Speaks to the TUC who advise him to join APEX.
    At about 3pm, 50+ workers walk out of Grunwick Chapter Road plant, demanding the right to join a trade union. They march to Cobblald Road where about 25 other workers join the strike.  

    24 August: Jack Dromey, Secretary of Brent Trades Council meets strikers at 11 am.  Organises a meeting at Trades Hall in the evening, where the election of a strike committee takes place.  APEX (The Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staffs) recruits over 60 new union members. Management offers reinstatement if union representation is dropped; workers stay out.

    31 August: APEX declares the strike official; ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers mediation; Grunwick management refuses.

  • September 1976

    1 September:  Grunwick receives official letter from APEX seeking a meeting.

    2 September:  Grunwick sacks the 137 strikers.

    14 September: Jayaben Desai taken to hospital after management car passes over her foot. Police refuse to act.

    20 September: Police arrest one picket for obstruction.

    23 September:  Unidentified woman hospitalised after being knocked down by management car.

  • October 1976

    5 October: Roy Grantham, General Secretary of APEX asks Secretary of State, Albert Booth to set up a court of inquiry into the dispute.

    7 October: Len Murray, General Secretary of TUC, asks unions to give all possible assistance to APEX, including boycotting Grunwick’s services.

    15  October: The Grunwick workers and their supporters lobby  Parliament. APEX officially refers the dispute to ACAS upon the advice of the Secretary of State for Employment.

  • November 1976

    1 November: Union of Post-Office Workers (UPW) “black” (ie refuse to handle) Grunwick mail. Police arrest 9 pickets.

    4 November:  Emergency debate in Parliament on Grunwick. UPW forced to abandon blacking under threat of legal action and in return for a promise from Grunwick to cooperate with ACAS.

    25 November: Grunwick increases wages to non-striking workers by 15 per cent.

  • December 1976

    12 December:  Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC, supports strikers at Brent Trades Hall.

    29 December:  ACAS seek Grunwick’s cooperation for a ballot of the workforce; Grunwick refuse.

  • January 1977

    27 January: Grunwick strikers picket chemist shops (where the mail order photographs were despatched and received).

  • February 1977

    17 February:  APEX accepts recognition as proposed in draft ACAS report.

    28 February: Survey by company of employees still working in Grunwick finds a majority of workers (86.4%) in favour of retaining the status quo (ie without a union).  None of the strikers were part of the survey.

  • March 1977

    10 March:  ACAS publish final report which finds in favour of the strikers, and recognises the union.  Police arrest four pickets and the Grunwick management challenges recommendation to recognise APEX.

    23 March:   51 dismissed strikers complain of unfair dismissal. London Industrial Tribunal rules it has no jurisdiction in the case. General Council of the TUC turns down first request by APEX for blacking of essential services to Grunwick.

    27 March: 1400 trade unionists and supporters march through Willesden in support of the strike.

  • April 1977

    1 April: Grunwick increases wages “across the board” by 10%. 

  • May 1977

    3 May:  Arrested pickets found not guilty in Middlesex Crown Courts and whose policy censured and ordered to pay costs.

    19 May: Three government ministers (Shirley Williams, Fred Mulley and Dennis Howell) join the picket line.

  • June 1977

    13-17 June: Mass picket called for one week.

    13 June: Police arrest 84 pickets on the first day of the mass picket.

    14 June: Bus used to drive ‘loyal workers’ through the picket line.

    15 June UPW’s London district Council advise post sorters and Cricklewood  to “black” Grunwick mail.

    21 June: Audrey Wise MP arrested on the picket-line.

    23 June: Yorkshire and Scottish miners join the picket line. Arthur Scargill (President of Yorkshire Miners) arrested.   PC Wilson hit by a bottle - much media exposure.

    30 June: Scarman Court of Inquiry announced.

  • July 1977

    10 July: National Association for Freedom (NAFF) launches ‘Operation Pony Express“ to get Grunwick  mail out of London and franked and sent by the Royal Mail.

    11 July:  National Day of Action against Grunwick. Nearly 20,000 join the demonstration (police figures say 3706). Company bus prevented from entering the Chapter Road premises throughout the morning.

    12 July: High Court rejects Grunwick challenge to ACAS decisions.

    29 July:  Postal workers vote to call off their action against Grunwick mail. Strikers vote to call off planned August 8 mass picket. Lord Denning sitting in the Appeal Court overturns High Court decision of July 12 which had backed the ACAS report. 


  • August 1977

    25 August:  Scarman Report published; calls for union recognition and reinstatement whilst criticizing the mass picketing and the postal blacking.

    31 August: Grunwick management rejects the Scarman Report

  • September 1977

    28 September: Strike Committee organises lobby of TUC which is stepping back from support for the strike.

    29 September: Strike Committee calls for new mass picket on 17 October.

  • October 1977

    17 October: A 5000 strong mass picket organised by the Strike Committee. 

  • November 1977

    7 November: A 8000 strong mass picket  organised by the Strike Committee;  113 arrested – Special Patrol Group of police involved; 243  pickets injured.

    21 November:  Four members of the Strike Committee  - Jayaben Desai, Vipin Magdani, Johnny Patel and Yasu Patel - defy the Executive Council of APEX and stage hunger strike outside Congress House, HQ of the TUC.  APEX suspends them without strike pay for 4 weeks.

  • December 1977

    14 December: House of Lords confirms 29 July decision against ACAS.

  • May 1978

    14 May: National conference in Wembley called by the strikers.

    15 May: George Ward, the Managing Director of Grunwick rejects the ACAS proposal for workforce ballot.

  • July 1978

    14 July: Strike Committee announces end of strike.