Making history in Dagenham

By Lizo Mzimba
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Jaime Winstone, who plays Sandra, has family in Dagenham who worked for Ford

In 1968 a group of women walked out of work to fight for fairer pay.

More than 40 years later their story has become a British movie called Made in Dagenham.

Sally Hawkins, Jaime Winstone and Rosamund Pike play the female machinists, who worked at Ford's Dagenham plant.

They went on to make history when their actions led to the creation of the Equal Pay Act.

"I never, ever thought that a film would be made of something we did 40 odd years ago," says Sheila Douglass, who began working at Ford in 1958.

"We'd forgotten all about it really and, I suppose, really we are proud that something we done all those years ago has been reinvented."

It's a sentiment echoed by one-time colleague and lifelong friend Vera Sime who, as well as going out on strike, attended several demonstrations during the dispute.

"It's a dream and something we never thought about," she says.

"It's so long after the strike, it doesn't seem possible that this is happening now."

'Empowering and timely'

The women had originally fought for classification as skilled workers, but their struggle eventually became more about getting the same pay as the factory men.

Eileen Pullan was heavily involved in the pickets and union meetings.

"We didn't realise what the impact was going to be. Who would know that today, sitting here, it's made history?" she says.

Image caption,
Former Ford workers attended the film's world premiere in London

A deal was finally reached and the women went back to work.

When the Equal Pay Act was introduced two years later, it made it unlawful for employers to discriminate between men and women in their pay and conditions.

"It was a good fight. It was worth everything," says Gwen Davis - another woman who took part in the strike.

The actresses, who play the fictional counterparts of women who took part in the strike, say it was important they played their roles sensitively.

"It's so important. I did feel a huge responsibility," says Golden Globe winner Hawkins, who plays the strike organiser.

"Ultimately, they were the reason the Equal Pay Act exists."

Winstone, who plays the character of Sandra, says she has a personal connection to the story of Made In Dagenham.

"I was aware of this famous protest. I've got a lot of family in Dagenham. My nan was a machinist and my mum. My nan taught me how to do the machinery work for this film.

"It's empowering and it's very timely. There's still not equal pay between women and men now, which is ridiculous. [But] this isn't just for women. It's for equality of human rights really."

Bafta nominated actress Andrea Riseborough, says the women "represent a whole slice of the world internationally who are still being paid really unfairly".

Made in Dagenham is released in UK cinemas on 1 October.

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