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!
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.
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!
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.
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.