Women owe much to the Ford Dagenham strikers

AS A working woman, I know that I owe much to Eileen, Lily, Vera and their cohorts – who pathed the way for equality in the workplace.

And though we have not quite made it to the point where every woman earns the same as a man, we are lucky to have had such a feisty bunch of trailblazers fighting our corner.

They scared the wits out of union chiefs, Ford bosses and politicians alike, and more than 40 years on their struggle has been immortalised on the silver screen.

Lily Grisley – known as Ginger Lil’ – took part in the historic vote to strike in 1968.

Now 84, Lily said: “I’m proud of what we achieved, but we were just doing what we knew we had to do.

“The way women were treated by all big companies was wrong, and we realised that if we did nothing then they would carry on as if we were second-class citizens. It was very out-of-character for me!

“But I didn’t worry about the consequences, we were all swept along because we knew we were right. And I’d do it all again tomorrow, if I felt it was so important.”

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The Dagenham sewing machinists, stitching seat covers for Ford’s Zephyrs and Consuls, had discovered their �18-a-week wage was way below what the plant’s 55,000 men earned.

It was even 15 per cent less than the men working alongside them doing exactly the same job.

They were furious. Not just because their pay was lower, but because of the horrendous conditions they had to endure. The women demanded an extra five old pennies – just over 2p – an hour.

When they were refused and walked out, women at the company’s other main plant in Halewood, Merseyside, walked out in support and all Ford’s production in Britain had to stop.

“It must be hard for anyone to believe what we did – but really, we were so angry at how we were being treated,” said Vera Sime, 80, another striker.

She went to the Ford factory when she was 36, with a young family to support, and stayed 17 years.

“We didn’t think we were doing anything especially brave,” she added. “We certainly didn’t imagine we were making history. We just knew that we weren’t being treated right, and we’d had enough.

“Some of the men were supportive. But many were hostile and would mutter awful things as they walked past our picket lines. But I suppose they hadn’t seen many angry women before.”