|Sally Hawkins - photo by Obenson|
From Nigel Cole, director of Calendar Girls and Saving Grace, Made in Dagenham (2010) may seem like a light-hearted drama comedy but it's a film that documents important events in political and social history in the UK. Made in Dagenham presents the fight for equal pay and better working conditions by a group of women employees in England. It starts as a determined walk-out in a small town and grows into a national scale movement that spawns political and social change.
Set in 1968, during the conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (played by John Sessions), it follows the events of a work force of nearly 187 female sewing machinists in Ford motors Dagenham plant in Essex.
The women, fed up of slaving away the same as their male counterparts and receiving less pay and being graded as a lesser quality workforce instead of semi-skilled labourers, fight for a higher pay grade and their rights to equal pay.
Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), a quiet, unassuming character is encouraged by her vibrant sweatshop workmates to become a union representative and lead a strike. Bob Hoskins supports her by playing the amenable union rep, Albert Passingham, who doesn’t even blink an eye when his colourful but head strong machinists strip down to their underwear to cope with the factory’s sweat shop heat.
The women’s refusal to continue and their determination, despite pressure from home to return to work, forces Ford Motor Company’s sexist management to reconsider its policies and the treatment of women in their work force. The absentee women also push Ford to reconsider the value of their female employees as part of the car production assembly line. No upholstery ready for Ford cars – then the vehicles do not complete the line and cannot be sold.
Based on a true story, Made in Dagenham illustrates that even in the late sixties, women as in previous generations, were willing to band together and stand up for their rights.
UK Women’s Rights Movement
During the first half of the 20th century, British women struggled to be taken seriously as a work force and have an influential voice in society. Following the Second World War, the feminist movement seemed to disappear but became rose once again as 'new feminism' in the late sixties.
In 1970 the Women's National Coordinating Committee made four basic demands:
- Equal pay
- Equal education and job opportunities
- Free contraception and abortion on demand
- Free 24-hour nurseries
Barbara Castle, (Miranda Richardson), Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, was heavily influential in solving the women’s Ford strike which brought the women’s wages at the car plant to 92% of men’s wages. Using the Dagenham success as a spring board, later as Secretary of State for Employment Barbara Castle brought in the Equal Pay bill, enacted in 1975, along with the Sex Discrimination Act.
Made in Dagenham was nominated for 5 BAFTA awards amongst others.