“Made In Dagenham”
 
            It’s 1968, in England , 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 Dagenham , England , 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 Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas