Dagenham: the film may be crap, but these women were (and are) heroes!

September 24, 2010 at 10:57 pm (cinema, class, comedy, Feminism, Jackie Mcdonough, women, workers)

Dagenham girl strikers
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:


  1. Mike Killingworth said,

    My recollection (and alas I am old enough to have one) of “The Rag Trade” is that Miriam Karlin made fools of Peter Jones and Eric Varley every week.

    It would be interesting to dig out the “Daily Worker/Morning Star” review of the programme at the time, but of course you can’t realistically ask for that sort of thing on a Trot website!!!

  2. Rosie said,

    Other good union films are Blue Collar, which is about union corruption and Norma Rae, which is about a woman textile worker successfully setting up a union at her work place.

  3. Clive said,

    The best film about a union struggle is probably Matewan, written and directed by John Sayles.

  4. jim denham said,

    Thanks for your thoughts on other good union films, Rosie and Clive: I am particularly remiss in forgetting about Matewan, a brilliant film that’s also sympathetic to militant trade unionism!

  5. jim denham said,

  6. Kuching Hitam said,

    Pity the phantom Matewan is such a pie-chugging Stalinist hack.

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