Not just a workplace but a whole way of life
FOR MANY thousands of people, the Dagenham Ford plant was not just a workplace, but a way of life and a source of pride. The factory opened in 1931 and promised employment for 15, 000 people. Dave Ainsworth, who worked at the plant for 31 years, has spo
FOR MANY thousands of people, the Dagenham Ford plant was not just a workplace, but a way of life and a source of pride.
The factory opened in 1931 and promised employment for 15, 000 people.
Dave Ainsworth, who worked at the plant for 31 years, has spoken to the POST about his favourite memories, from the heydays of trade unionism to the demise of car assembly.
He retired in 2003, but retold some of his anecdotes and memories to film-makers from Testimony Films who are producing a documentary for the BBC about classic Ford cars.
He said: "When I joined the factory in 1972 approximately 32,500 people were working there. When I left, there were under 5,000."
He started work in the foundry where he remained for the first five years, before moving on to the assembly plant, and then finishing working as a tour guide for visitors.
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He said: "Fords used to get 15,000 visitors a year, many of them students, until they stopped producing cars in 2002."
Mr Ainsworth enjoyed the publicity work most, but says that camaraderie among the employees was best in the foundry, where work was tough.
He said: "You got to know each other because you had have so many breaks from the hot foundry.
"The foundry had quite a thriving sports club, and people used to go to the Mill House Social Club opposite the works on the A13."
He said that a strong gambling culture was part of the foundry's camaraderie, which caused worry among the men's spouses.
Mr Ainsworth said some wives used to go along on pay day to the foundry gates to collect the housekeeping money their men could gamble it all away.
"Some people used to stay in the factory all the time. They used to call refer to it as the Casino."
He said he applied for work at Ford's until something better showed up, but ended up staying for 31 years.
Half of the 60 men who joined on that Monday with had left by the Wednesday because the work was so tough.
He said: "You gave an hour's notice and went home with whatever money you had made. I stuck it out."
In those days, trade unions were quite strong, as 22 different ones were allowed to have a representative each within the company.
Employers were worried that employees would stop working with anyone who was not in the union, Mr Ainsworth explained, because it was quite an issue.
He then developed a passion for Ford cars because the employee discount scheme the factory ran enabled him to buy cars at a huge discount.
Having bought his first car in 1974, Mr Ainsworth has been changing vehicles every two to three years since.
He said he felt proud of having worked for the company, especially when Fords won the contract for the Mazda 121, which was based on the Ford Fiesta.
Another commemorative moment in his career was the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, when Mr Ainsworth was selected to drive a Ford car in front of the Queen and a million people in a display of vehicles spanning the 50 years that Her Majesty had been on the throne.
Anyone who worked at the Dagenham plant, or who has a memory to share about a Ford car is asked to contact Clair Titley of Testimony Films on 0117 925 8589, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to her at: Testimony Films, 12 Great George Street, Bristol, BS1 5RH