Made in Dagenham (2010)
A dramatization of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination.
In 1968, the Ford auto factory in Dagenham was one of the largest single private employers in the United Kingdom. In addition to the thousands of male employees, there are also 187 underpaid women machinists who primarily assemble the car seat upholstery in poor working conditions. Dissatisfied, the women, represented by the shop steward and Rita O'Grady, work with union rep Albert Passingham for a better deal. However, Rita learns that there is a larger issue in this dispute considering that women are paid an appalling fraction of the men's wages for the same work across the board on the sole basis of their sex. Refusing to tolerate this inequality any longer, O'Grady leads a strike by her fellow machinists for equal pay for equal work. What follows would test the patience of all involved in a grinding labour and political struggle that ultimately would advance the cause of women's rights around the world.
In 1968, the women at the Ford auto plant in Dagenham, England go on strike. As sewing machine operators making the coverings for car seats, their jobs have been reclassified from semi-skilled to unskilled. A friendly shop steward, Albert Passingham, tells strike leader Rita O'Grady that this isn't about whether they are skilled or not. They're getting paid less because they are women and unless they change things, they will always make less than the men do. The women walk off the job and eventually the plant runs out of car seats with the entire plant shutting down. With the men now out of work it's left to Rita to convince them they need the support of all workers to succeed. The intervention of a senior government Minister who takes up their cause despite a heavy-handed response from Ford clears the way for a solution and leads to legislation on equal pay for work of equal value. Based on a true story.
1968. The one hundred eighty-seven women machinists at the Ford plant in Dagenham, England, long filed a grievance against the company to have their jobs classified as semi-skilled as opposed to unskilled, their job to sew the seat covers for the vehicles manufactured. They are the only women working at the plant, compared to the fifty-five thousand men. With the company refusing to negotiate, the machinists, supported by their local union representative Albert Passingham, take job action, including refusal to do any overtime, and a twenty-four hour strike. It isn't until after this job action occurs that the machinists discover that the job classification is not the issue, but rather Ford's unwillingness to pay them equal to the other unionized employees solely because they are women. As such, the fight becomes a broader one of equal pay for equal work. Emerging as the primary voice of the machinists is Rita O'Grady, who had no interest previously or history of labor activism. Ultimately, the machinists take full blown action in walking off the job, they expecting the support they have previously provided to their male colleagues to be reciprocated in respecting the strike. The women will find that they have an uphill battle in their fight. Ford managers on both sides of the Atlantic refuse to give in to any such demands secretly seeing doing so as a dangerous precedent in having to pay all women in the company equally. Many of the male union members don't support the strike seeing their jobs as being more important if only because they are generally the household breadwinner. Beyond Albert, the machinists' own union managers, their representative being Monty Taylor, provide little support in seeing the fight for their male members more important, and they protecting their own perks funded largely by union membership dues. There may cracks within the ranks of the female machinists themselves based on how the strike affects their individual situations, including within Rita's own family. And if it does become a broader policy issue beyond Ford, the British government has to balance the importance of Ford to their economy against the fact that they campaigned on equality to get into power. Although the new Secretary of State for Employment, Barbara Castle, supports the notion of equality, her first job as she sees it is to ensure economic stability which means keeping Ford happy.
- The film opens with some facts and figures about the Ford Dagenham factory and the number of people employed, a fraction of whom were women.
Against a background of Desmond Dekkar's "The Israelites" the opening shot shows the sewing room where the seat covers and door panels are hand-sewn by women on individual sewing machines. Many of the women are stripped down to their underwear, presumably because of the hot working conditions.
The union shop steward, Albert, played by Bob Hoskins, walks into the room, he has to shield his eyes in embarrassment from the half-undressed women. He tells them that the only way for the women to progress their claim against being regarded as unskilled workers is to take industrial action. They all agree to an overtime ban and a one-day strike.
The women are then seen at a party celebrating a birthday, one of the girls slips out and is seen having sex in the back of a car (a Ford Corsair). She returns and they get rapidly drunk before staggering home.
Rita is then shown having breakfast with her family. Husband Eddie has to be roused out of bed by Rita with a splash of cold water on his back! Rita's son complains that the teacher has hit him, Rita resolves to sort it out. She goes to the school to see the teacher, Mr. Clark, who is dressed in academic robe. He explains that he forgot his protractor on numerous occasions and was caned, he explains in a patronising way that children from the council estate sometimes couldn't cope and needed reminding on how to behave and not forget things. Rita is furious, leaves the classroom and bumps into another parent (later identified as Lisa) who, when she asks if she is OK, she tells to F.... off.
Back at the factory we see all the women working, there's a leak in the roof, Connie points out that Sandra should be reminded about her workmanship. Albert comes and announces that there's to be a meeting at Ford HQ in Warley, and that 2 of the women should go, they nominate Connie, who is the shop steward, and Rita.
At home Rita's family are watching Black & White TV, there's a news bulletin about a demo in London (Red Lion Square demo against Vietnam war) and then Sooty with Harry H. Corbett. We learn that Eddie also works at Fords.
They're going to the meeting, on the way they stop at a Berni Inn for a steak dinner, apparently this is normal practice, we are introduced to Monty Taylor, the works convener, a stereotypical union representative. He tells them not to say anything and nod at everything he says. At the meeting the women, and Albert, quickly cotton on the fact that the union is selling them out. Rita intervenes and explains to the management the skills involved in their work. She lays down the womens terms to avoid industrial action semi-skilled status for the women. The management are taken aback. Back at the factory Rita explains how the women are being fobbed off. "Everybody out!" is the cry.
In parliament we are introduced to Barbara Castle, Employment Secretary in the Labour Government. She is speaking to her young male officials complaining how they've done nothing to improve industrial relations. Strikes were up, productivity was down. Back at the factory we see the women on their picket line with placards. In the factory they are running low on seats. Ford HQ in Michigan USA are involved, they are told it's the women. Out on the picket line it starts to rain, the women are soaked, they are all smartly dressed in skirts no jeans! Afterwards Rita meets Albert in a cafe, he tells them it's not about skills, it's because they're women. What they need is equal pay with the men. Albert explains his own family background, brought up by his mum who struggled earning half what the men got in wages. Someone must stop this exploitation. He proposes that Rita should take over from shop steward from Connie, whose husband is ill.
Outside, Rita, dripping wet, is invited in to a car, where she meets the woman she met in the school, who explains that Mr. Clark is a bully and she has also complained about his use of the cane. The woman is clearly more educated and better off than Rita. Rita admires her dress. It's from Biba she said. Ah well, it's still gorgeous Rita says.
Back in the factory, Sandra arrives in skimpy hot pants. Inside a man arrives to dish out threatening letters from the management. Rita makes an inspiring speech, they need a level playing field! The strike was no longer about skill levels, now they wanted equal pay or nothing! Albert is with Monty and the other union leaders, who quote Marx, he quotes Marx back, but it's more relevant. Against a background of the Small Faces, Rita leads a demonstration, back at home Eddie isn't coping very well. Rita goes to Liverpool to meet the workers at Fords Halewood factory, she gets home late and finds Eddie washing up. Next day Eddie has to take the kids to school, tension is rising between Eddie and Rita. Eddie is down to his last clean shirt!
The women go on a trip to London to demonstrate outside parliament, they unfurl their banner which says We want Sex. Barbara Castle looks out I know the feeling... she says, they then unfurl it to read We want sex equality. Eddie is in the pub watching the news bulletins with George, Connie's husband. George says that they need to settle it.
In the factory they run out of seats. The production lines stop and all the workers are laid off. Back at home Eddie complains that Rita's action is causing hardship all round. Ford of US are telling the Dagenham management that they need to sort it. Barbara Castle talks to Harold Wilson. He patronises her, calling her the best man in his cabinet. He says that she should get Jack Scamp in to get everyone round the table with beer and pork pies, that would sort it.
Ford bosses fly in from America, he goes to the Ford manager, Peter Hopkins house, where we now realise that Lisa, the woman who spoke to Rita about the school teacher, is also the wife of Peter Hopkins. He asks her what she thinks, it turns out that she is a highly educated woman, and she tells him how GM don't have industrial relations problems because they have a more collaborative approach. Peter is embarrassed and tells her to fetch more cheese!
Rita is giving out strike pay - £3 each. She goes to see Connie. Connie says that she cannot come to any meetings because George is ill he's touched she says. We see George and Connie in bed, George is having a nightmare and wets the bed. The union leaders are threatening Monty, saying they cannot give women equal pay. Tension is rising at home where Rita's fridge is repossessed because they haven't paid the HP. Sandra gets a phone call, and goes into the factory to appear in a photo shoot for the new car. Rita finds her, tells her that she deserves to become a model, and that she hasn't broken the strike. This makes Sandra think, in the next shot she is wearing a skimpy bikini she has daubed equal pay on her midriff. Connie leaves for work, George tells her he's proud of her and loves her. Barbara Castle is told by her officials that they have been assured by the unions that the girls will do as they're told. At a meeting with the union bosses Albert Rita and Connie are told that there will be a vote at the union conference on whether to back the women. Connie goes home and finds George has hung himself. At the funeral Connie and the women are distraught. That evening Lisa Hopkins goes to see Rita at her flat to tell her that the Mr. Clark has been asked to leave the school. She admits who she is the wife of Peter Hopkins who, she says, treats her like a fool. She wishes Rita well, don't let me down, she says.
Rita and Eddie confront each other, Eddie complains that he hasn't been a bad husband, but Rita dismisses him. She should have rights not privileges. They take the coach to Eastbourne, Eddie follows on his motor cycle. In the conference hall, Monty starts to address the delegates, he is interrupted by Rita and the other women, Rita addresses the delegates and seems to win them over. Eddie has turned up to apologise, Rita and Eddie make it up. The vote goes 79-48 to support the women.
Barbara Castle rants at her officials when they say they can't set up a meeting with the striking women. She demands that that they follow her instructions. Ford bosses start to pull strings with Harold Wilson, Wilson says they mustn't upset Ford because they're such a big employer. Rita goes to see Lisa her husband is amazed that they are on first name terms. Rita borrows Lisa's Biba dress to wear at the meeting with Barbara Castle. Outside the government offices they have a press conference. The press ask them how they are coping. We're women says Rita. dont ask such stupid questions!
We see the Ford boss Robert Tooley threatening Barbara Castle that if she gives in to equal pay demands they will move their factories elsewhere. The women meet Barbara Castle, she is won over, and tries to contact Wilson but is told he's on a plane. She decides to negotiate directly with Tooley, they agree to give the women 92% of male pay rates, and to introduce equal pay legislation into parliament. They've won! Outside they meet the press. Barbara Castle compliments Rita on her Biba dress, Rita explains how it's got to be returned that day, and returns the compliment to Barbara on her C&A outfit. To the sound of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want" we see the workers returning to the factory, followed by a montage of actual 1960s news footage of the real characters.