Eileen Pullan, Gwen Davis, Sheila Douglass and Vera Sime: heroes of the Dagenham sewing machinists’ strike (see the Graun‘s story). Top: the 1968 strike vote.
Trade unionism has not been portrayed well by film and TV over the years. By far the best two films involving trade unionism, I’m All Right Jack (a British comedy from 1959) and On The Waterfront (a US melodrama from 1954) are both determinedly anti-union. More typical are weak British comedies like Carry on At Your Convenience (don’t ask), and the 1960’s TV sitcom The Rag Trade.
By all accounts, Made In Dagenham, which goes on general release in November, is more in the tradition of The Rag Trade than of On The Waterfront. If we’re lucky (and the less than enthusiastic advance reviews prove wrong) we may get something approaching the hilarious brilliance of I’m All Right Jack. But I’m not hopeful: Made In Dagenham is by the same people who did the “feel-good” Calender Girls.
Never mind: it’s based upon a true and inspiring story: that of the women sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant, whose three week strike in 1968 forced the company to concede something approaching equal pay with male machine operators (though full equal pay at Ford wasn’t achieved for another two decades), and was a major factor in the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. These women were heroes, defying not just the Ford bosses, but also many of their male workmates and reactionary forces within the unions as well (though the T&G did give them official support and plant Convenor Bernie Passingham played a good role). Their determination and solidarity deserves to be better remembered: if this film – however lightweight – helps do that, then it will have been worthwhile. The surviving strikers who’ve seen it say the film isn’t actually that bad…
Here’s a factual account of what really happened, and its political consequences. And here’s what Elizannie, a blogger with family connections to Dagenham, has to say. Meanwhile Dave asks, “why now?”
I’ll review the film itself as soon as I can. Meanwhile, here’s the trailer: