Made in Dagenham

The 1960s were a time of incredible progressiveness and change. Civil rights, feminism and space exploration all began to make serious changes to our way of viewing the world, and each other. Taking place in 1968, Made in Dagenham follows the story of Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), the unlikely heroine of the Ford Dagenham worker’s strike, where women achieved the right to equal pay for equal work.

Initially, we’re shown the women hard at work in their part of the Ford plant. Sewing machinists by trade, they work in appalling conditions. There was no cooling or ventilation available, prompting some to remove their shirts or pull down their dresses to stay cool, and when it began to rain it poured onto the workers and their equipment. Conversely, the rest of the Dagenham plant was pristine, air conditioned and the roof certainly didn’t leak. Dissent is brewing, the women have taken a pay cut as their trade had been graded “unskilled” labour, placing them on the lowest pay scale.

The women are visited by sympathetic union rep Albert (Bob Hoskins) who is seeking volunteers for negotiations with union mediators. Connie (Geraldine James), the eldest and most respected woman is immediately nominated, quickly followed by Rita, hand-picked by Albert. Rita justifies it as a day off, and agrees to attend.

At the meeting they meet another union rep, Monty Taylor (Rupert Graves). Monty instructs the women not to speak, even when spoken to and to let him speak for them. This arrangement predictably does not last, as Rita exclaims “Bollocks!” loudly, pulls some fabric out of her purse and tells the union reps to assemble it. They are unable to do so, but are also unwilling to raise the classification of the “sewing machinist” trade. The women vote to go on strike.

Originally intended for one day, the union offers no acceptable solution so the strike continues. Soon, the plant runs out of finished car seats and none of the men can sew. Thus, the plant is shut down and everybody is out of work. The men are unsupportive and uncaring towards the women’s plight, and Rita’s marriage shows signs of stress.

Eventually, the dispute drags on long enough to warrant government attention. Minister Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson) is called in to “deal with the issue”, and is under pressure from Ford to end the dispute and preserve the status quo. She is smothered by insipid male-aides who talk down to her, and she must routinely put them in their place.

With the assistance of Barbara Castle, the strike comes to an end and the women achieve a major victory. Subsequently, the Equal Pay Act passed in 1970.

I found this film to be very engaging. The mostly female cast was well put together, and their parts were written in such a way that the actresses were intelligent, powerful and inspiring. The movie had lighter moments, and one character that was especially well done was that of Barbara Castle. Miranda Richardson did an excellent job of conveying her wit, redheaded temper and wisdom.

I left this movie feeling positive and happy, hopeful that the future will be bright and grateful for the sacrifices and struggles these women endured for the rights we all take for granted today.

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