Thanks to the movie Made in Dagenham, everyone remembers the 1968 Ford sewing machinists’ strike for the 187 women who walked out in Essex.

But 195 women at the Halewood car plant went on strike too!

Some of the 195 women sewing machinists from Halewood who walked out over pay, June 1968

Some of the 195 women sewing machinists from Halewood who walked out over pay, June 1968

Much less is written or heard about them. But their fight for fair pay half a century ago played a major role in rewriting employment history.

Their action led directly to the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and heavily influenced the fledgling women’s movement.

The strike started on June 7th 1968 when women sewing car-seat covers at Dagenham downed tools over being paid less than men doing the same job.

The women were classed as B-grade unskilled workers while the men were employed as C-grade semi-skilled workers.

When the women machinists at Halewood walked out soon afterwards, Ford knew they had a fight on their hands.

Mass production chips at Ford Halewood. Tucking in is worker Margaret Barber, December 1967

Mass production chips at Ford Halewood. Tucking in is worker Margaret Barber, December 1967

The strike attracted worldwide publicity, especially when Ford’s output was brought to a standstill.

The women soon found out they were not only fighting Ford, but the unions too. The mighty Transport and General Workers Union (T&GWU) refused to back them.

They were also ridiculed by male colleagues and sections of the press who clung to the line that they should be caring for their families, not earning pin money!

Halewood machinists in London for a mass meeting at the T&GWU headquarters, June 1968

Halewood machinists in London for a mass meeting at the T&GWU headquarters, June 1968

Meetings were held across the country, including the T&GWU headquarters in London, but the women refused to give up.

As the strike entered its second week, Prime Minister Harold Wilson sent Employment Secretary Barbara Castle to help negotiations.

Empty production line at Ford Halewood, January 1969

Empty production line at Ford Halewood, January 1969

Barbara Castle leaves the Employment Ministry after meeting union leaders, June 1968

Barbara Castle leaves the Employment Ministry after meeting union leaders, June 1968

Dagenham shop steward Rosie Boland raised the issue of equal pay with Castle over tea – and found the minister sympathetic.

After three weeks on strike, the women settled for 92 per cent of the C grade rate. But it would take another 16 years and another strike to force Ford to regrade them.

The film Made in Dagenham, starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson was released in 2010. The theme tune, with lyrics by Billy Bragg, was sung by former Ford clerk Sandie Shaw.

Made in Dagenham – the musical – premiered at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 2014.

 

 

There are many more unmissable images from the Sixties in Clive Hardy’s brilliant new book Around Liverpool and Merseyside in the 1960s – published this July.

Echo readers can pre-order their copy at the bargain price of £9.99 plus £1.99 P&P. Just visit our online shop or ring the order hotline on 01928 503777.

Orders will be dispatched in the week beginning July 9th 2018.

Don’t miss out on the remarkable story of an unforgettable decade!