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Made in Dagenham – Movie about Women’s Equality

by Lesley Lanir

Made in Dagenham – Women walk out and why not?

Nigel Cole’s film Made in Dagenham (2010) based on a true story, illustrates that even in the late sixties, women, as in previous generations, were willing to band together and stand up for their rights.

Movie About Women's Equality

The film follows the events of a work force of nearly 200 female sewing machinists in Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham plant in Essex (a London suburb). 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, fight for 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 who doesn’t even blink an eye when his machinists strip down to their underwear to cope with the factory heat.

The women’s refusal to work and determination 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 in car production. No upholstery for the cars – then the cars do not complete the assembly line so no finished product to sell.

Background on Women’s Rights in the UK

In Britain, during the first half of the 20th century, women in Britain struggled to gain a voice in society. After the Second World War, the feminist movement died down but became prominent again in the form of 'new feminism' in the late sixties.

In 1970 the newly founded Women's National Co-ordinating Committee four fundamental demands:

  • Equal pay
  • Equal education and job opportunities
  • Free contraception and abortion on demand
  • Free 24-hour nurseries

After 4,000 women rallied and marched through the streets of London in March 1971 the demands were presented to the British Prime Minister Edward Heath.

Barbara Castle, played by Miranda Richardson in Made in Dagenham, as Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity was instrumental in solving the women’s Ford strike which brought the women’s wages at the car plant to 92% of men’s. Using this achievement as a platform, Barbara Castle as Secretary of State for Employment introduced the Equal Pay bill. It was enacted in 1975 along with the Sex Discrimination Act

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Were you part of the women's movement?  Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

Lesley Lanir is a freelance writer, lecturer, and educator of teachers. She also has experience in product development, proofreading and editing, and technical writing. In addition to writing for print publications and online magazines, Lesley enjoys hiking, traveling, film, and the performing arts.

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