The release of the movie “Made in Dagenham” was eagerly
anticipated by many trade unionists only to disappoint. The light hearted
interpretation of this major piece of working class history has the same style
and approach as adopted for the “Billy Elliott” interpretation of the Miners Strike
or “The Full Monty” to the hardships of unemployment under Thatcher.
A movie can only reflected the historical events but to make
such a mess of such a well documented strike is a criminal revision of history
worthy of Stalin’s cronies.
Speaking from the experience of the three month Steel Strike, a strike
is a time of high tension, not only in the work place, or the picket line but
in the families as money becomes short. Ken Loach’s “Leeds United“about a
strike garment workers was more realistic than this romp. It is understood that over the course of
time, what is remembered is the comradeship on the picket line, humorous events,
and the real hardships will fade with history, but to ignore these in a movie
that claims to be a factual reproduction of events is wrong.
The movie did represent aspects of the 1968 working class
life well, the solidarity, the time when whole housing estates would supply
labour to one employer or the workingmen’s club as hub of trade union and
social activity, Some fanciful trips are portrayed however in the movie, the
child of ford worker & the child of a managing director going to the same
school is beyond the realms of realism.
This device is used by the director to feed the fantasy that all women
are subjected to the same repression by all men and remove any class basis for
the exploitation of these women workers. This characterisation of all men as
oppressors is continued throughout the movie with the depiction of trade union
leaders of the period as sexists, which may be they were, but without any
reference to the cosy class collaboration of the TUC leaders it is out of context. The representation
of all the male ford workers as against the strike is wrong, as this was
official strike endorsed by the ford works committee.
Critics have slatted the industrial banter of the time which
aimed sexual comments at a young apprentice as inappropriate for these ladies
of Dagenham, but I remember as a young lad of 18 in 1973 walking up the rolling
mill at BSC cargo fleet were all the mill operators were female and by the end
I was blushing as bright as a beetroot. This banter was the glue that stuck the
workforce together in a collective experience and enforced the solidarity.
Unlike the vision of perfect equal pay after the act
portrayed by the movie. The reality was something different with employers
navigating around the act by segregating workforces or other such manipulations
what really happened is that the women of ford inspired other workers to strike
for equal pay between 1970 and 1985 over 15 major disputes for equal pay
occurred in Britain.
This is a fun romp through the ‘Hollywood’ rose tinted
glasses, but is not a true record of events and for a light hearted night out
it is as good as anything.
The only other point left is in the credits at the end of
the movie the producer and director must have been intimidated by Ford Motor
Company, as a caption is displayed stating that the Ford Motor Company has good
employee relations today, unfortunately at the sight of such hierocracy I was
unable to stop myself from shouting out “Fu*k that, what about the workers at
Visteon!”, which got some cheers from the rest of the theatre.
Letter to Socialist Appeal (Issue 190)
I, like many others, have been to see the film ‘Made In Dagenham.’ However I see that nearly all of the film was not made in Dagenham itself but in loads of other places.
This does not surprise me. In 1968, Fords employed over 25,000 people at the Dagenham site. At nine in the evening, Dagenham Heathway would be full of people heading off to do the night shift as if it was the middle of the day.
Now the plant is a shell of its former self with just a few thousand working there. Large parts of the old works have not only been pulled down but the exposed ground has been relandscaped so that you would never know that a building ever stood there.
The film portrays Ford management as a bunch of money-grabbing bastards – how true that turned out to be!
Tony Hazard (Essex)