Who are they?
The Dagenham Machinists are a group of 187 women who were working at the Ford Dagenham plant in 1968, making car seat covers. They had been graded as “unskilled B grade” workers, even though they did the same thing as men placed in the “semi-skilled C Grade” AND they were only paid 85% of what the men earned. They walked out on strike and were joined by 195 women from the Ford Halewood plant in Merseyside.
The strike brought Ford’s entire car production to a standstill. The women struggled to get support from their male counterparts, or their union. But such was the impact of their action, their organising committee was invited to tea by then Employment Secretary Barbara Castle. The women ended up winning 92% of the male rate of pay, and it took another 16 years and more strike action for them to get a proper re-grading.
Their strike action was the subject of the movie Made In Dagenham, which starred Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins.
Why should we thank them?
The strike had a huge impact on the women’s movement at the time and put the issue of equal pay in the public eye. Women rushed to join trade unions after the action, and the strike action ultimately led to the Equal Pay Act being introduced in the UK in 1970.