A play which tells an extraordinary story which happened right here in west London and challenged the way women and immigrants are treated in the workplace has gone on national tour.

We Are The Lions Mr Manager!, by Townsend Theatre Productions, tells the story of the two-year Grunwick Strike in the 1970s.

It also focuses on the remarkable Jayaben Desai, a 4ft 10in tall mother of two who led the first walkout on August 20 1976 in protest against the humiliation she and other female employees felt at the film processing lab in Dollis Hill , Willesden.

Led by mostly east African/Asian women, the Grunwick strike became one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history, and changed the way trade unions thought about race and new immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

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The women became known as the “strikers in saris” and their fight for fair treatment was supported by thousands of trade unionists and campaigners as more than 20,000 people joined them at the picket lines.

Townsend Theatre Productions has taken its play on tour and it comes to London this month.

The title of the play comes from an exchange between a factory manager and the diminutive Mrs Desai.

The women had walked out over their unfair working conditions, low pay and "bullying tactics" used by management.

As Mrs Desai and her colleagues walked out, a manager told them to “stop chattering like monkeys in a zoo”.

Mrs Desai turned and replied: “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo.

“But in a zoo there are many types of animals.

“Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr Manager!”

During the two-year walkout, Mrs Desai not only stood up for workers’ rights, but turned the dispute into a national movement for human rights, proving an inspiration for future generations and challenging the way people perceived Asian women.

Written by Neil Gore, the play will tell the story of the Grunwick dispute through a mixture of song, poetry, movement and dance, and the play will utilise Townsend's trademark cast of two actors playing multiple roles.

Demonstrating postal workers marching through the streets of London in support of the industrial action at Grunwick

The role of Mrs Desai will be played by Medhavi Patel, who herself is a distant relation of the inspirational leader.

Gore said: “In our work we aim to focus on the lives and contributions of inspirational and vital figures from our social history, often forgotten, who campaigned vigorously to improve the quality of life for everyone.

“Jayaben Desai is one such figure. She tirelessly fought on behalf of immigrant workers against exploitative employment practice, fearlessly faced all the elements of establishment authority, alerted many in the trade union movement to the issues of vulnerability of immigrant workers, and highlighted the fight to maintain basic trade union rights.

"Her resolve and courage should be remembered and celebrated.”

Mrs Jayaben Desai

The play’s national tour began in Bedford on October 14. It will be performed in Leeds, Salford, Glasgow, Liverpool before coming to the Tara Theatre, Earlsfield, London, from November 21-25.

It will continue touring in the new year, finishing where it began, back in Bedford, in April.

We Are The Lions Mr Manager! is supported by Arts Council England and Unite the Union.

For more information and tickets, see here .

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