'Strikers in Saris' workers’ rights railway bridge mural revealed: Ribbon cutting by Raghib Ahsan, Dr Janet Bailey and painter Haider Ali at Grunwick dispute mural unveiling Credit Network Rail/Jas Sansi 16x9

Wednesday 11 Oct 2023

'Strikers in Saris' workers’ rights railway bridge mural revealed

Region & Route:
North West & Central
| North West & Central: Central

A hand-painted mural on a railway bridge in Birmingham has been unveiled to commemorate South Asian immigrants who fought for equal working conditions 45 years ago.

Network Rail and British Asian magazine DESIblitz have spent months planning and designing the tribute to the 1977 Grunwick dispute* which has been painted on the sides of Soho road bridge in Handsworth.

The brilliantly coloured panels depict scenes from the dispute which began at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in north London, and was led by women workers who were known at the time as the ‘Strikers in Saris’.

Coming from Africa, India, and Pakistan, many leaving behind secretarial and well earning skilled positions, discrimination in the employment market here often saw them offered only factory jobs.

But poor pay, exploitation and workplace intimidation was rife for immigrant workers right across the country - including in Birmingham, so the South Asian workforce made a stand.

Together they created their own trade union, organising strikes and mobilising people to travel to London to protest for better workers’ rights.

The newly painted panels on the railway bridge show that story of determination - and also the progress which followed - illustrating the positive impact the Indian and Pakistani population has made in the decades since in Britain.

It took renowned Pakistani artist Haider Ali, from Karachi, five weeks to paint the mural by hand, in the distinctive truck art style for which he is famous all over the world.

Yesterday (Tuesday 10 October) the mural was unveiled to people in Handsworth, and a ribbon was cut to mark the completion of the colourfully painted bridge parapets, which will now be seen by thousands of road users and pedestrians every day.

Indi Deol, from DESIblitz, said: "Our mural, created in collaboration with Network Rail, pays homage to the Grunwick Dispute, a testament to the resilience and unity of the Strikers in Saris and the local community. It tells the story of strength, unity, and determination, capturing the spirit of the Indian Workers Association which arranged coaches from Birmingham to London. Organised by DESIblitz and brought to life by the talented truck artist Haider Ali over five weeks, this mural stands as a lasting tribute to those who fought for justice."

Steven Ireland, from Network Rail, said: “It’s been an honour for us to work with DESIblitz to transform our railway bridge into an impressive piece of art which reflects such a turning point for South Asian workers’ rights in Britain. Not only does it provide a new focal point for Handsworth, but we also hope it’ll inspire people to learn more about how immigrants settling in this part of Birmingham stood together to fight for fairness.”

Before any painting of the bridge took place, Network Rail structural teams needed to make sure it was suitable for the artwork.

It has been carried out in accordance with all the necessary regulations needed and the work hasn’t caused any disruption to passengers below.

Network Rail is always keen to work with communities on projects of this kind. To find out more you can visit: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/communities/

Notes to Editors

*The Grunwick dispute started at a film processing laboratory in London but was soon joined by those experiencing similar conditions right across the country, including South Asian immigrants working in the West Midlands.

The mural aims to highlight not only that specific point in history, but the cultural and economic impact on Birmingham following the arrival of South Asian immigrants from Africa, India and Pakistan.  It will look at the impact made on the Indian and Pakistani population already in Britain and the wider population, as well as the effect their arrival had on the economy of the region and on Britain as a whole, as they established and grew businesses, many of which became nationally and internationally significant.

A mini documentary is also being produced by DESIblitz, exploring the stories of those affected and looking at the continuing impact of the Grunwick dispute as people built new lives in the West Midlands. Its aim is to encourage more people to share their personal stories, many of which are currently only known amongst intimate family groups or other small numbers of people within a particular community. The wider project hopes to bring to life what for many, is just a date in the history books. For more information and how to share your story please contact: indi.deol@desiblitz.com

About DESIBlitz

DESIblitz.com is an award-winning online British Asian lifestyle and news magazine that provides training and vocational opportunities to aspiring minority writers, journalists, photographers, and filmmakers.  The website reaches 550,000+ users every month, primarily from British Asian communities, and ¾ of which are aged between 16 and 34 years.  It provides local, national, and international news, original articles examining issues affecting our target audience, lifestyle features and information, entertainment, community news, exclusive video interviews, and social and cultural events. Lifestyle content includes British Asian and South Asian news, coverage of cinema including Bollywood, insights into the world of Arts and Culture, latest developments in Music and Dance, controversial subjects in Taboo, trends in South Asian fashion, health and beauty tips, delicious food recipes and exclusive competitions.  It has won the Best Website Award at the Asian Media Awards in 2013, 2015 2017, and 2021, and also Best Publication 2021. 

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