Made in Dagenham: History of the 1968 strikes

Made in Dagenham Made in Dagenham Made in Dagenham Made in Dagenham Made in Dagenham poster

Nigel Cole is the director of "Made in Dagenham," the story of the 1968 Ford Dagenham sexual discrimination strike. The film, which stars Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, and Bob Hoskins, is being released by Sony Pictures Classics on November 19.

“At the time, the Ford factory in Dagenham was the largest factory in Europe,” explains director Nigel Cole, who thoroughly researched the history of the strike for Made in Dagenham. “It?s hard to believe just how huge it was, with some 55,000 men employed there, making half a million cars a year. In 1968, there were a small number of women employed in the factory as sewing machinists, sewing the car seats together. They had recently been downgraded in their pay structures as „unskilled? and they were furious about it. Understandably so, as they were more skilled than many of the men. So they went on strike. And the strike grew and grew and, because they weren?t producing the car seats, it got to the point that Ford couldn?t make cars anymore. They ended up bringing the entire factory to its knees. Thousands of men were laid off and it became a huge national crisis.”  

 

“Initially, they had the men?s support,” says Cole. “Although the men were amused by the whole thing at first, as the women hadn?t been on strike before. And, in those days, as indeed it is to this day, women?s work was considered less important than men?s work. But, as it got more serious and the men got laid off, some of them turned against the women. They felt as though they should just stand aside and let the men get on with their jobs.” 

 

A Nationwide Impact

 

Of course, ultimately, the women?s actions changed not only their conditions within the factory, but women?s rights nationwide. 

 

“It got to a point where Barbara Castle, the leading female politician of the day, got involved,” continues Cole. “She negotiated the settlement with the women and out of that came the Equal Pay Act 1970. So these ordinary women, who had never been involved in anything political in their lives, suddenly found themselves at the Houses of Parliament negotiating with a senior politician and bringing about a revolution in rights for women. It is an inspiring story and it?s so great to feel like you?re telling a story that needs to be told.” 

 

1968: A Year of Protest

 

Producer Stephen Woolley explains that the women?s actions were in keeping with a year of huge political unrest and change. “1968 was the year of the Paris riots and there was a heavy sense of change in the air,” he says. “This little incident in Dagenham became a massive event. It started out as this fight to be recognized as skilled workers, but then they decided to go for equal pay with the men, and that?s what really caused a stir. It had huge significance around the world. The big companies didn?t like the idea that they would have to pay women the same amount as men.” 

 

One of the things that appealed to Woolley about the story is the innocence and honesty with which the women acted. “They didn?t have a clue as to the enormity of what they were doing,” he smiles. “They weren?t being calculated, and they weren?t trying to buck the system. They could just see all these men, up and down the country, striking for far less reason than they had. The conditions they worked in were just horrible: this old factory with a broken roof that was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. They weren?t given any of the rights that the men were given.” 

 

The less glamourous '60s

 

Having made 60s-set films before – notably Stoned, Scandal and Backbeat – Woolley was interested in making a film about the less glamorous side of that era. 

“This film works as a reminder that, for many people, the 1960s were downtrodden and not particularly glamorous times,” he explains. “Not to say that this is all doom and gloom. These women were a life force. They see the funny side of everything, despite everything they had been through. These women had endured the 1950s when there was still rationing. Their men had come back from war, having seen some horrible things and feeling incapable of working. Then things started to change in the 1960s when pop music took off and these now older, disenchanted men watched their children grow their hair and wear miniskirts. The women were holding things together, often having to deal with very feckless men. In Made in Dagenham, obviously the politics are there, but we didn?t want to make a staunchly political film. Instead, it?s about truth and personal stories of these women.” 

 

 

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