Thursday, 18 November 2010

Made in Dagenham

The Equal Pay Act is an act of Parliament, which prohibits any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment. It was passed in the aftermath of the Ford sewing machinist’s strike of 1968, a real landmark in labour-relations disputes in the UK.

The Ford Plant Dagenham.
The strike began on 7 June, 1968, when women sewing machinists at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Dagenham Essex walked out, followed later by the machinists at Ford's Halewood Body & Assembly plant in Liverpool. The women made car seat covers and as stock ran out the strike eventually resulted in a halt to all car production. The Dagenham sewing machinists walked out when, as part of a regrading exercise, they were informed that their jobs were graded in Category B (less skilled production jobs), instead of Category C (more skilled production jobs), and that they would be paid 15% less than the full B rate received by men. At the time it was common practice for companies to pay women less than men, irrespective of the skills involved. Following the intervention of Barbara Castle, the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson's Labour government, the strike ended, three weeks after it began, as a result of a deal that immediately increased their rate of pay to 8% below that of men, rising to the full category B rate the following year. A court of inquiry was also set up to consider their regrading, although this failed to find in their favour. (The women were only regraded into Category C in 1984 following a further 6-week strike.)

The idea for the movie dramatisation came when Stephen Woolley, one of the films producers, heard an interview with the actual women who took part in this historical event on a BBC radio programme. Made in Dagenham (2010) is a brave attempt to put a serious subject across to its audience knowing that many will not accept a serious subject matter unless it’s dumbed down! To place the actions of Dagenham and Halewood in their time frame one has to remember that 1968 was a great period of protest. For example eleven million workers were on strike in France with students demonstrating on the streets of Paris, actions that changed French society forever. Worldwide protests were also taking place against America’s involvement in Vietnam including our very own anti-war demonstration in Grosvenor Square, London 86 people were injured and 200 demonstrators arrested. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King the same year violent protests took place in Chicago supporting civil rights and against racialism.

One out all out.
The film is honest in its approach holding up the Union bosses to scrutiny when they refused to support their working class membership and giving a truthful portrayal of the people involved. Emotional and touching at times it’s both funny and entertaining. Nigel Cole who was responsible for the frothy rural middle class drama Calendar Girls (2003) directed this social comedy. Great acting from all involved especially Sally Hawkins as strike leader Rita O’Grady and Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle. A very enjoyable British movie, keeping alive our great cinematic traditions.

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