Inspiring Women, no 9: Dawn Dixon draws a powerful lesson from the equal pay strike of 1968...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, special supplement
Dawn Dixon is the co-founder of Webster Dixon, the first minority-owned law firm in the City of London. The Ford machinists were a group of British factory workers who went on strike for equal pay in 1968.
In the late 1960s, there were probably a couple of thousand men working at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, east London, building the bodies of the cars. A group of fewer than 200 female sewing-machinists made the trimmings for the inside of the car. For years these women had been graded as unskilled workers, and paid around 80-85% of what unskilled men were paid; they were also largely unrecognised by their own union.
When they went out on strike, they brought the whole plant to a halt—if no trimmings were being made, then the men couldn’t complete the cars. They had to fight their employers, they had to fight other members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, plenty of whom thought a woman’s place was in the home, and they had to fight the [Labour] government. It was only when Barbara Castle [the first secretary of state] intervened that a deal was reached. They were given 92% of skilled male workers’ pay—and in 1970 Castle saw the Equal Pay Act through Parliament.
Their story was recently turned into a film, “Made in Dagenham”, with several of the strikers rolled into one composite character known as Rita O’Grady. These women’s actions had global ramifications for Ford. They changed the way the trade unions looked at the representation of women, and they twice changed the law. So although we haven’t reached true equality yet, we should put our heads above the parapet like they did. If you see something isn’t fair, then it’s fine to do something about it. That’s the lesson I’ve drawn from them.
Read more from the Inspiring Women series: