Thursday, April 28, 2011

Made in Dagenham (2010)--Women "Stirring Up a Fuss"

Genre: Comedy

This comedy-drama charts the struggle of one Rita O'Grady (Sally Hawkins) a working-class wife and mother who leads 157 women workers at a Ford Motor plant in Dagenham, England, out on strike when their jobs sewing upholstery on car seats is threatened by the Ford with being declassified as "unskilled labor". The personal difficulties the women face: from their husbands, from the unsympathetic union leadership and, of course, the company brass are all woven together well.

The film is based on a real event and employs television news footage of the time that documents how far working class men, professional board-room types and even supposedly socialist and liberal politicians in general were from accepting the concept of "equal pay for equal work" between the sexes --and how far it still has to go.

The film has an excellent cast and a good feel for the period. Bob Hoskins is especially good in a sympathetic role as a shop steward whose mother had to support her family when he was a kid and there was absolutely no pay equality in the workplace. Rita gets some encourgement from him but in the end its her own voice and personal mettle that comes to the fore when the all-male union bosses try to put the issue on a back burner.

Miranda Richardson appears as Barbara Castle, a powerful Labour Party official of the time who has her own "old boys network" to deal with, headed by the out-of-touch Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who thinks the women can be put off with pie-in-the-sky promises.

I hope a good deal of this film is actually factual, because it really does show how courage and convictions can change things for the better, even if its only a small initial victory .

One oddity for me is seeing so many people working at a car plant taking bicycles to work. Either that's "veddy British", or Ford was a lousy company to work for there at the time.


  1. This looks really good. When I get back from vacation, I'l watch it.
    I dunno about over there, but over here, we still don't have equal pay!

  2. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did Jacquie.

    That's true--we still have a ways to go in that department. I was sorry to see the Equal Rights Amendment movement stalled by chauvinist fear-mongers... some of whose leaders were female!

  3. The bicycles? They couldn't afford cars. Simple as that.

    I haven't seen this yet but I'm going to.

  4. A reflection of the poor wages they receive/d perhaps. I'm guessing they lived near to the factory but I can't really comment on that either.

    Women still don't receive equal wages here either. With the doing away of collective agreements and national awards it becomes very difficult to know what the person on the next desk is receiving compared to yourself but a recent study has shown that men on the same job as women may be receiving up to a third more in wages than the woman doing the same job. The outgoing Labour government (1989) attempted to bring in wage equity legislation but it was thrown out in by the incoming National government in favour of my often-mentioned 1990 Employment Contracts Act which sought to drive down all workers wages (in practice hitting women far worse than men).

  5. Working class people in Britain at that time rarely owned cars, regardless of where they worked. And those who did only owned one, so women wouldn't have had one. Apart from anything else, we had nowhere to put them. Working-class homes had no garage or parking space.

  6. I missed the fil, but I watched your trailer above. Good stuff.

  7. Yes, it was a long-time policy of Ford Motor in the USA to pay wages to make it possible for any full-time worker to own a car.

    I gathered the pay wasn't up to speed, Melanie, but it was still surprising how few if any workers were seen driving what the company sold.

    In any case, its a very good film.

  8. It's remarkable to me that this problem (wage equality) still exists, Iri. Not so much in the USA, where groups in the Deep South and other former "frontier" states like Utah and Idaho have dragged their feet on the issue of female equality to this day. but even in New Zealand and I gather still in Britain all it takes is achange of government to throw out common-sense provisions for all workers.

  9. I've never known any system like that in Britain. Wages were such that you could live on them, but there were no "extras", and a car was definitely an extra. When I started work in 1979 it was still perfectly normal for workers to arrive by bicycle. Some of them did own cars, but it wasn't far. Small island, nothing's far. But my mother never owned a car to the day she died.

  10. It's probably better in the long run for more investments in public transport. Cars can be liberating for people, but high gas prices are one of the things that is stifling the recovery in America. We built a infastructure, nay a culture, based on the automobile,and now we are really paying for it.

  11. Too true Melanie. I forgot we were talking about so long ago as I was typing. It was different here in New Zealand, most people (families) did own a car (at least by the sixties they did) albeit the cars were often ancient old bombs.

    When my mother came out from England (working class Oldham) I don't think she knew anyone who owned a car. But when she met my dad he did own a very old car (I think it was a Hillman - the kind where the door handles sort of met in the middle). She later said that cars aided temptation - an interesting comment I thought.

  12. Liberalist economic theory (which seems to have dogged us since the eighties) believes that all markets should be de-regulated and the "free" market will somehow magically sort these issues out. Or at least that is how the rhetoric goes - in reality liberalist economic theory is all about driving down wages and benefits so that the corporations and shareholders can make bigger profits. Somehow (and again in some magical unexplained manner) those profits are meant to "trickle down" to the workers on the bottommost rungs. We have been waiting a while, eh.

  13. Sounds like something a vicar would say, Iri Ani. :-)

  14. That's about it in a nutshell, Iri Ani. What frosts me is what so many people are still buying it---or if they aren't they (as voters) are convinced to vote for some candidate who turns around and enacts such a preposterous economic theory down upon most of his-her constituents.

    It's a riddle why after this many decades this pre-Great Depression economic crud of a theory is still selling.

  15. Industrial relations with sex appeal is good stuff I think Doug, most British trade unionists had to wait for National Conference season at Blackpool, Brighton or Scarborough to begin for that sort of malarkey...these conferences involved seriously wild social events for shop stewards and other delegates in my public sector union anyway, this was perhaps less true of the National Union of Mineworkers or the Boilermakers at that time. Looks like a nice film, although I wasn't so keen on the soundtrack, something by ABBA or Tom Jones would have been more authentic as I recall those heady days.
    Barbara Castle ended her life an icon of the socialist women's movement within the wider organised labour movement somewhat ironically I think, but there you are.

  16. One of the messages of this film, AA, is how the trade union types were little different from those bosses at Ford who ran the plants in terms of how they treated women. I'm sure the off-hours behavior at those resort party conventions were quite similiar.

    Yes, I got a chance to review some of Barbara Castle's career. She seems to have made her share of enemies with campaigns for Trade Union reform, reforms that came off rather like the Tory position in some instances. Hard to believe today that lin 1968 it was necessary for a Cabinet Minister to push for laws requiring cars to have seat belts---seems like common sense. Ah, annother example of corporate market inattention to public safety.

    It seemed to me as a viewer of the film that The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was a major, major achievement (in the USA, such a law had to be added to the Constitution for full effect, but it fell short of approval of several state legislatures) but I don't know what th status of that is today. Suffice to say progress has been made in both nations, but not enough. Many of the victories women have had over here in workforce pay have come through the court system.

  17. I read about the power of the Trade Unions in this country in the 50s. What started of as a good idea ended up by them putting the rope around their own neck. They ground this country to a halt once too often.

    As for equality for women, I may as well believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. Grins.

  18. When I was in a university class studying post-war labour power in Britain, among other places, there did seem a strong concensus in what I read that TUC power went off the rails in the 1950's, Cassandra. Some thought so as well in the early 1970's when Edward Heath was the top minister facing strike actions, but there as I recall the verdicts were more mixed.

    Over here, the unions never had the power the TUC posessed over one political party, although unions were at their most influential in the 1950's and 60's. The AFL-CIO was a component of the Democratic Party, but the party only went so far on social issues due to anti-union sympathy in the southern states.

    And the bosses and the unions both overlooked basic principles---such as the subject of this film, equality of pay for comparable work regrardless of gender.

    Today, in my opinion, investment bankers have such power over both major parties (and thereby the federal government) that these entitiies ran our macroeconomy via under-regulated "casino capitialism" in the markets and the great "home mortgage bubble" into financial madness.

    These big banks were also the first lot to get bailed out when the US economy sank in '08, and then they went right back to big bonuses for their CEO's. Similar bad things things happened in the fallout to Ireland and other countries as you know.

    What Lord Acton's dictum said about the corruption of power being a sure bet knows no institutional bounds, that much for certain.

    One would like to think progress in equality for women has approved in some jobs and careers, but it's been like the progress of a snail across a football field I gather.