“Made In Dagenham”
It’s 1968, in
, and there’s not a single mention of The Beatles.
Or the Rolling Stones. This
is about another cultural revolution---a quieter one, at the time, but one
that has had the most lasting impact on the way we all live.
Ford Motor Company had a plant in
, that employed thousands of men and only 178 women.
Most of them worked at the sewing machines, stitching together fabric
for car seats. By hand.
These were working women, with strong fingers, thick accents, rough
exteriors, and the kind of unspoken solidarity that comes from everyone
experiencing the same injustice at once.
At that time, in that place, it was assumed that the men in the plant
would be making more money than the women.
The wage inequality was startling---the typical female worker made
about half of the average male. Yes,
they were doing different types of work:
the men on the assembly line, the women at the sewing machines---but
hardly enough distinction for the company to label one as “skilled” and
the other as “unskilled.”
Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) is just one of the workers.
She’s not even the Shop Foreman (yes, that’s what they called the
Head Seamstress at the time). But
the other working women like her, and trust her, and when the time came to
elect a representative to meet with the “men in suits,” the others
picked her by acclamation, and she accepted.
She immediately finds an ally in Albert (Bob Hoskins), the union rep
on the plant floor, whose Mother also worked at a place where they routinely
assumed that women should make less than men.
That experience not only affected Albert’s upbringing, it makes him
a perfect encourager, and mentor, for the timid, inexperienced O’Grady.
But it doesn’t take lovely Rita long to stiffen her resolve and
build some fire in the belly. Not
only do the company execs stonewall her, so do the union bosses, whom she
suspects of being too cozy with management.
(They got their piece of the pie, why should they care about everyone
else?) The more setbacks Rita
suffers, the more determined she becomes.
She knows she’s right. She’s
standing up for a powerful principle. And
all the other women are all behind her.
And she takes very seriously the responsibility of speaking not only
for herself, but for every one of them.
Great Britain, at the time, was undergoing much labor
unrest----strikes and work stoppages were commonplace--- and after some
initial support from the other unions (a preponderance of males), the
solidarity begins to wither under the insistence by management that they
cannot possibly operate profitably if these ridiculous wage demands were
met. The politicians become
involved, who, of course, understand how important the international
industry is to the economy of their constituency.
According to this version of events, the striking women found a
couple of unlikely allies: one
a bright, educated wife of one of the management execs, and the Secretary of
Labor herself, who was supposed to be a token female appointee, but decided
that there was something larger at stake here than the wages of a few local
machinists: this was about
equality for working women everywhere.
Yes, O’Grady suffers personally from the ordeal, because it
consumes both her time and her emotional energy, and there’s a lot of
stress at home. Her husband
Eddie (Daniel Mays) at first willingly plays Mr. Mom, then begins to bridle
under the daily grind of cumulative neglect---not to mention, of course, his
growing realization that her work has suddenly become much more important
than his. But the most touching
scene of all is when he finally tells her that he does support her, and he
believes in her, and that means more to her than all the frantic press
conferences put together.
Yes, the bit about the working women in the plant finding a voice
been done before (see “Norma Rae”).
But “Made In Dagenham” makes you want to cheer for them, anyway.
As they now say, “You go, girl.”
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace