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Made in Dagenham, Movie Review

Updated on September 16, 2011
Sally Hawkins
Sally Hawkins
Bob Hoskins
Bob Hoskins
Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle
Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle

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.

(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.]


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    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 4 years ago from Victoria BC

      I loved this movie. Saw it on DVD by accident. I think it would have been quite successful if it had been promoted here more. Have you seen Tea with Mussolini per chance?

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Thank you for your kind comment and correction.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 6 years ago from UK

      This is a really interesting hub. Even though I’m British, I haven’t seen this film yet. I really liked reading about the parallels between the film and your experience. I was very interested to read about how the women were not supported properly by their union either in the film or in your experience.

      You might like to know you’ve got one factual error - don’t know if it’s you or the film that made it - Gordon Brown was not prime minister of the UK in 1968 - he was still at school then! Harold Wilson was prime minister at the time.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Tnx for your kind comment.

    • alinadelea profile image

      alinadelea 6 years ago

      Good article,thanks

    • profile image

      sarah 6 years ago

      we enjoyed the movie and your Hub.