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Dagenham machinist at Ford’s during strikes speaks in parliament

PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 September 2015

Former Ford striker, Dora Challingsworth at her home in Dagenham

Former Ford striker, Dora Challingsworth at her home in Dagenham

Vickie Flores/Archant

For Dora Challingsworth, a former sewing machinist at Ford’s Dagenham plant, the importance of the 1984 strikes will never fade.

Dora (centre) with MP Rachel Reeves (right) in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament on TuesdayDora (centre) with MP Rachel Reeves (right) in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament on Tuesday

But after 31 years of sharing her story she’s decided she’s done talking about the industrial action.

The 77-year-old marked the end to her public-speaking by giving a speech in the houses of parliament last week.

To commemorate the anniversary of Magna Carta, parliament hosted the Dagenham activist to hear about the struggle she was involved in which contributed to current employment law.

“It’s something that’s got to go down in history, everyone should know about it, but I’m done talking about it now,” she said.

A show of hands by female sewing machinsists at the Ford Plant in Dagenham indicates they wish to end the strike and return to work. Pic: Press Association Archive.A show of hands by female sewing machinsists at the Ford Plant in Dagenham indicates they wish to end the strike and return to work. Pic: Press Association Archive.

“That was the last public talk I’m going to do. We keep getting offers to go and talk about our story up and down the country and I don’t want it anymore. It’s coming to an end.”

Dora, of Goring Road, Dagenham, arrived at the factory in 1970, missing the first wave of strikes for equal pay by two years.

After the success of the ‘68 dispute with Ford, which led to the Equal Pay Act, machinists still were not recognised as skilled labourers.

“Unfortunately lots of people don’t know about the 1984 strike they just know about the 1968 one,” she added.

An old photo of women who worked at the Ford factory during the second strikes in 1984An old photo of women who worked at the Ford factory during the second strikes in 1984

“But we wanted our skills as machinists to be recognised more than we cared about equal pay.”

Dora guesses the 1984 dispute was overshadowed by the miner’s strike which dominated the headlines that year.

“That was the message I wanted to get across in parliament,” she said.

“How it was just as important as the ‘68 one.

“Everybody seemed to love the speech. They said I did very well.

“I also told them all about how hot it used to get in there in the summer and how freezing it was in the winter.

“They even got the fire engine out one day to hose down the roof it was so hot. We’d go outside for 10 minutes but you couldn’t cool down in that time.”

During the 1984 strikes, which lasted for seven weeks, Dora had just come out of hospital and was on sick pay – so was unable to join women on the picket lines.

However, whenever she could she would go and support the crowds on Chequers Lane who would picket “all day and night”.

“There were meetings in London and I would go up and argue our corner in a room full of men,” she added.

“When I was younger it was nothing to me and I was always happy to talk about it but now I forget about things and lose what I was going to say.

“I think women are still fighting and they are fighting more today because we had over 200 machinists so we had power, but today if there’s only one or two woman in a company, they have no power.

“I’ve always said if you get in a good union and go to the meetings you can get something done, but you can’t get anything done individually anymore.”


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