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