"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The real story of 'Made In Dagenham'

I was born in the Dagenham area and most of my family worked for Ford. I am not old enough to remember all the details of the strike of the women sewing machinists at Ford in 1968 - although I do remember it as I also remember so many bitter strikes in those years with so many of the family sharing so that none would go without during hard times - but I have plenty of older relatives who can tell the real stories of the strikes. All were in the trade unions and one was a trade union official so I know their stories are the real stories.

I have been looking forward to the forthcoming film 'Made in Dagenham' - the semi-fictionalised account of the Ford women sewing machinists strike in 1968, which was not only important to the women taking part but became symbolic and a test case for the equal pay movement for women, ultimately leading to the Equal Pay Acto of 1970. It seems that the film is not really going to show the issues as they really were, it is all a bit too 'comfortable' and f'r instance the trade union character that Bob Hoskins plays is fictionalised and not at all a portrait of the wonderful Bernie Passingham who was the real union hero of that strike. Similarly the 'lead' female character, Rita, played by Sally Hawkins is a fictionalised being. Perhaps the fact that the film is made by the makers of 'Calendar Girls' gives the clue that it will be more 'feel good' than a true reflection of the political and personal upheavals of the times.

In 1968 the women sewing machinists at Ford on the 'women's rate' [no skilled or unskilled rates for women then, just that one rate] were getting 87% of the 'unskilled male' rate. There was also a 'skilled male' rate. However the sewing machinists job had been judged to be a skilled job. The women's working conditions were also appalling [*See below] After an inquiry ordered by Barbara Castle and led by Jack Scamp [one of many he carried out into the motor industry] the women eventually won their case.

But the end of the film is not the end of the story. In 1984 there was another strike within Ford over 'grading' issues when it was revealed that the male/female pay divide still operated when women were assigned lower grades for jobs that were the equal of higher paid graded jobs for men*.

In 1985 the design of the seat/covers was changed so that they were no longer made in the same way and the women lost their jobs to redundancy or transferred to other jobs elsewhere when production was outsourced [for a lower cost]

Apparently the film has some sweaty love interest which will probably eclipse the realy nitty gritty of the political situation of the time and what the women achieved over and above their own pay increase - i.e. the chance of equal pay for all working women.

Last week The Guardian gave the film a rather poor review which can be read here:
but I cannot resist the following quote from the article:
Nonetheless, this remains a film for knee-jerk feminists and the soft in the head. A promising opportunity has been squandered.

A book containing a lot of info on pay and conditions over the years in Ford is:
Working For Ford by Huw Benyon

*For a good precis of the strike by the women and subsequent 1984 action go to: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/07/14/we-brought-ford-empire-its-knees

Photograph of the women sewing machinists in 1968 courtesy of The Socialist Worker


  1. 1968, that was the year I started at Fords. At nineteen, walking into the factory hearing the deafening noise and busy machine and assembly lines. I remember thinking to myself,"I wont be here long!" 40 years later I retired! On reflection I thought it was a very aggressive industry, where you had to fight for better condition, justice and pensions. Two 9 weeks strikes! lightening strikes! to improve pay, condition and Pension. When I left three years ago I thought I'd left it all behind! But Now were at it again, Fighting for justice and our Pensions! will Fords never learn!

  2. Very interesting comment, Anonymous. I hope that you and the other pensioners receive the justice they deserve very soon.

  3. Very good article, Elizannie: It's not clear whether you've yet seen the film, though it seems not. When you do, will you post a review? And can I then cross-post it onto the blog I write for, "Shiraz Socialist"?

  4. I haven't seen the film yet Jim, although obviously I have seen lots of trailers. You may have seen from my later blogs that I was at the premiere [on the 'other side of the barriers'!] on Monday evening with the VPAG demonstrators and am keen to see the film. My main worry is that it is being described as a 'feel good movie' and that the main message is that 'it all ended happily ever after' when although the women obtained equal pay at that point in time they still went back to pretty grotty jobs and conditions and industrial problems continued. When I do watch the film on its general release I will certainly post a review and you will be welcome to cross post it and any other blog from here to your blog site which I often visit.

  5. Jim - and anyone else - I have now seen the film and a review/comments about it of it is posted here:

  6. women!women!women! The strikes at Dagenham were instigated by ford, most of the union leaders got brown envelopes. they pushed the button when they over produced cars. The management played all of us as usual. As soon as the backlog cleared, hey presto strike over. I will add this: do you think you will ever get the truth when it comes to the elite and the worker. "IF ONLY SOCIALISM WAS SOCIALISM FOR ALL" As for pensions, any one who has took one in the last 30 years can kiss it goodbye.

  7. Whilst I agree that many workers thought that strikes were instigated by Ford, usually by management making some totally unreasonable demand, only to cave in when it suited them, I would not agree with the brown envelopes allegations.
    The position on pensions is deplorable and unfortunately those who worked for Ford are not the only ones in the firing line as this government seems to think that those in the public sector can have their contracts destroyed with impunity. Those who worked for Ford and were spun off to Visteon have their legal case coming to court next year, funded by the Unite union for union members and a separate but tandem case for non-union members see www.visteonpensionactiongroup.co.uk for more details.

  8. I watched the film recently and realised that my uncle was at Ford at the time in personnel I never realised the impact this strike made. I would love to find some photos of him when he was young.

  9. Just watched the film for what it was- a well made, well acted film that was designed to be entertainment.
    The poor reviews made me wonder what the critics opinions of the viewing audience are- do they assume people will not see beyond the the "feel good" factor of the film!! I was 12 when it happened for real , and clearly remember it being on the news- did I care when I was 12? Absolutely not! Do I appreciate now what those women did? Yes absolutely! I have run my own business from the age of 16 and have never worked for anyone other than myself but this film has made me realise that without the committment of those women, people like me might not have been taken seriously. It's made me look back and research further into the real story. I can't be the only one! So film critics, credit people with a little intelligence please!!

  10. I just feel I have to comment here.
    I have just finished watching this movie, through Netflix on my computer, and wanted to read more about these women. I did like the movie, although perhaps it was abiut light, and nolstagic.
    I was just thrilled to fine you and your blog.
    I have authored two blogs, and live in Canada.
    I am a daycare worker, and have been a president of my small ,local, for the union.
    I would like to follow your blog, and learn more of what you choose to write about, and life in your part of the world.
    So, I wanted to say hello, and so nice to find you,