Based on true events, Made in Dagenham is a 2010 film starring Sally Hawkins detailing the Ford sewing machinists strike, the success of which is widely regarded to have brought about the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
In 1968 there were 55,000 men employed at Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham Factory and only 187 women. These female machinists were informed that their job had been degraded to ‘unskilled’ work resulting in reduced pay. Consequently, the women went out on strike demanding, quite rightly, their grading be changed, and that they be given the appropriate pay. However, what the film quickly highlights is that this is not a dispute about the nature of their skills but rather about the nature of their sex. Ford was allowed to pay them less simply because they are women.
Highlighting the nationwide injustice between male and female rates of pay, this was a landmark labour-relations dispute. Despite fighting an international corporation that had a larger annual budget than India, the strike brought the production of cars to a standstill. Due to Ford’s involvement in the British economy, it became a matter of national interest with the Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, having to intervene.
The film also explores the idea of the male being the ‘breadwinner’ and the primary source of the family wage. However, Gwen Davis, one of the real workers said in an interview, “our wages weren’t for pin money, they were to help with the cost of living, to pay your mortgage and help pay all your bills. It wasn’t pocket money. No woman would go out to work just for pocket money, would she? Not if she’s got a family”. One line that exemplified such gender inequality was when Rosamund Pike’s character stated, ‘I have a first-class honours degree from one of the finest universities in the world and my husband treats me like I’m a fool’.
In terms of historical accuracy, the film certainly allows itself some creative liberties. For instance, (spoiler alert) in demonstrating the toll the strike is taking on her marriage one of the characters returns from a union meeting to find her husband has hung himself because of wartime PTSD with no one being home to look after him. Despite these moments of poetic scope that viewers can forgive in the name of the plot, the film is a largely accurate retelling of events, endorsed by the real women, who appear briefly at the end.
I would recommend you add this film to your watchlist, especially as it’s free to stream on iPlayer. It’s a feel-good film, no longer than two hours, that is also a good insight into how the fight for equal pay was won.