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Made in Dagenham, Movie Review
Made in Dagenham
Made in Dagenham is a nice little independent movie about about a 1968 strike for equal pay by 187 women sewing machine operators at Ford Motor Company's huge Dagenham, UK, automobile plant. For me it seemed as if I were in a time warp to parallel events I experienced many years ago working in General Motors corporate labor relations department.
Made in Dagenham is a serious movie about a serious subject treated with a light touch. It portrays Ford management in the UK and Dearborn headquarters as well as the male dominated UK union in an unfavorable light. Faced with a strike by the women which shut down the entire Dagenham complex Ford threatened UK Labor Party Prime Minister Harold Wildon with moving its British operations out of the country. And the union leaders only reluctantly supported the women strikers after an eloquent speech by Rita O'Grady their leader.Harold Wilson was intimidated by a telephone call from Henry Ford II, and threats by his emissary, Robert Toohey. Barbara Castle, Brown's cabinet minister for labor rebelled against her prime minister and sided with the women. She called Ford's bluff and negotiated a compromise which provided for an immediate raise to 92% of the wage for men and the promise that a law would be passed requiring equal pay for women. Such a law was passed in 1970 which the narrator of the movie claimed was the first in the world. Here I beg to differ with the movie because the law requiring equal pay for women in the United States was passed in 1963.
I can't think of anyone who could have done a better job playing the movie's heroine, Rita O'Grady, than Sally Hawkins who was perfect for the role. Bob Hoskins delivered his usual competent performance as the one union representative who supported the Ford women. Kenneth Cranham was suitably devious as the head union officer at Dagenham who pretended to support the women while doing his best to undermine their campaign behind their backs. Miranda Richardson was fine as famous woman UK politician Barbara Castle, but I was bothered by the fact that she was apparently made up to look like Margaret Thatcher. As I said the topic of the movie, actual events at Ford Dagenam in 1968, was serious, but the movie was not without humor.
Which brings me to GM circa 1970 where the women sewing machine operators at GM's Fisher Body "cut and sew" plant in Cleveland had filed a lawsuit against General Motors and the UAW under the 1963 equal pay act.. Historically, at Fisher Body Cleveland there had been two sewing classifications--Sewing Machine Operator Heavy and Sewing Machine Operator Light. The "heavy" classification paid 20 cents an hour more than the "light" classification. Not surprisingly, the "heavy" classification was populated entirely by men, and the "light" classification was populated solely by women. Our legal department guru, J. Edmond Dilworth, Jr. Esq., determined that we and the UAW didn't have a leg to stand on, so I accompanied Dilworth, to a settlement meeting with the women's lawyer in Cleveland arranged by our local counsel, Jones Day Reavis and Pogue. A representative of the UAW also attended. I expected that the women's counsel would demand a settlement including back pay to the effective date of the equal pay act or to the maximum under the statute of limitations, but I learned a lesson about the majestic workings of the law in the United States. The case was quickly settled on the basis that, going forward, the women would be paid the same as the men. Back pay was not mentioned. Instead, the negotiations focused on how much General Motors was willing to pay in attorney's fees to the lawyer representing the women.
Made in Dagenham brought back my memories of the meeting in Cleveland 40 years ago because in the movie and in my experience the union didn't pursue the interests of the women whom it represented and in both cases pressure had to be brought on the employer in order to get them to do what, in fairness, they should have been doing voluntarily Since my experience in Cleveland, I've seen plenty of examples of corporations who had to be dragged into court in order to force them to "do the right thing." And too often they buy their way out of lawsuits with a payment to the victims of their negligence and/or to the government, neither denying nor admitting guilt. Until the Civil Rights Act was passed women and minorities were not hired in management, engineering or white collar jobs nor in factory skilled trades jobs although the companies trotted out their "longstanding policies of non-discrimination in employment" whenever the subject arose. Their statements about their policies were technically true, but their universal practice was to discriminate against women and minorities.
Postscript: Nearly 50 years after the passage of the equal pay act, women still lag men in comparable jobs by a significant amount. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0763170.html
(Rated R for language and brief sexuality.)
[If you liked Made in Dagenham you will also like a somewhat similar French movie, Potiche, starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, linked below.]
- "Potiche" starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu--Movie Review
Potiche is a comedy of manners and politics starring Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu set in the 1970s in a small town in France where the primary employer is an umbrella factory founded by Deneuve's late father.
Info Please--Wage Gap
- The Wage Gap Infoplease.com
The wage gap is a statistical indicator often used as an index of the status of women's earnings relative to men's. It is also used to compare the earnings of other races and ethnicities to those of white males, a group generally not subject to race-
1-20-11Detroit Free Press--GM promotes Mary Barra Head of Worldwide Product Development
- GM names new head of product development | freep.com | Detroit Free Press
GM has named Mary Barra head of global product development, continuing the management shake-up and making her the first woman to hold the position at GM.
1-24-11 New York Times--Supreme Court Ruling on Retaliation in Discrimination Claims
- 40 Years Later--Supreme Court Rules on Retaliation Against Woman Who Filed a Discrimination Case
Forty-five years after the equal pay for women act was passed the U.S. Supreme Court finally got around to ruling that firing the woman's fiance was illegal retaliation under the act.
Christian Science Monitor Review of Made in Dagenham
- Made in Dagenham: movie review - CSMonitor.com
In the sometimes preachy 'Made in Dagenham,' the fight for equal pay gets a feel-good spin with Sally Hawkins's lead.
Made in Dagenham Hub Review
- Made in Dagenham Review
Made in Dagenham tells the true story of the strike of the Ford Machinist Strike of 1968. A strike that started over a dispute of the classification of the women as unskilled turned in a fight for...