Made in Dagenham

I’ve been in London these past few days, and all over the buses and the tube are adverts for Made In Dagenham, the new film about the seminal equal pay strike strike by Ford sewing machinists in 1968. The film opens on 1 October and had its world premiere last Monday (and I have already blogged about it below).

I really hope it’s a success. Certainly the early reviews are reasonably positive, and that’s welcome, but, in advance of seeing the film (and I will be doing so) I have a number of reservations from a trade union perspective:

1. I’m nervous about the title: there’s a word play at work here and the last thing we need is the perception that this is an issue by and for a bunch of old women.

2. The director of Made in Dagenham was previously responsible for Calendar Girls; forty years on, equal pay remains a serious issue and I don’t want it to be viewed from a similar quirky, light comedic perspective.

3. The strapline: ‘1968. It’s a man world but not for long’ is all wrong. It encourages the view that equal pay is a problem resolved, that there is equality in pay (and in other areas of sex discrimination). In thousands of workplaces up and down the land, women are still suffering from a lack of equal pay, which remains a continuing, and serious, problem.

Still, I’m comforted by the involvement of Billy Bragg, and the comments of the stars of the film at the premier are an encouraging start to how the film must be seen. It’s also important that some of the original strikers have had at least some involvement in the work.

But, is it slightly possessive about a key aspect of labour movement history to want a proper serious film about a proper serious issue, rather than the product of a serendipitous tap into a 60s zeitgeist stemming from current pop culture? And which, dammitall, may turn out to be highly popular? There is a role for trade unions and other activist groups in running special screenings which seek to engage and to energise people around the equal pay issues that remain and, if the film both entertains, informs and encourages debate, that has to be helpful. It must do all three.

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Made in Dagenham

Watching Sandie Shaw on the One Show last night (at about 12:33 this compilation version), she reported that she is singing the theme song for Made in Dagenham, the film due for release at the start of October about the sewing machinists’ strike at Ford’s Dagenham factory – a landmark dispute in the fight against sex discrimination at work.

Shaw is, apparently, an ex-Ford’s Dagenham worker herself, while the lyrics for the song have been written by the inestimable Bard of Barking.

Nice to see a (mostly) positive story about workers taking action on prime time TV, even if the initial reference to the ‘infamous’ strike was a little unfortunate – symptomatic, I guess, of the loss from the collective memory of the principle of the logic of collective action associated with the decline in such activity and its replacement with a belief in the primacy of the individual. By itself, this is a healthy reminder that rights at work and advances for workers must be fought for and that’s as true today as it was in 1968, and as it was in 1868.