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Council honours Ford Dagenham sewing machinists involved in the 1968 strike at 50th anniversary event

PUBLISHED: 13:00 09 June 2018

Some of the original Ford Dagenham strikers. Picture: CU London

Some of the original Ford Dagenham strikers. Picture: CU London

CU London

Former sewing machinists at Ford's Dagenham factory reunited for a tribute event commemorating 50 years since the historic strikes.

Half a century ago 187 women workers staged a walkout in protest of the car giant’s failure to recognise their work as skilled.

The move, immortalised on stage and screen in Made in Dagenham, paved the way for the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which made it illegal to pay men and women differently for the same work.

Three of the original strikers — Dora Challingsworth, Pam Brown and Geraldine Wiseman — spoke at Thursday’s anniversary event at the former Dagenham Civic Centre, now a CU London campus, with their colleagues from Ford’s Halewood motor plant in attendance.

Female machinists at Halewood, on Merseyside, downed tools in solidarity with their 1968 strikers over similar barriers, though their role in the privotal moment in UK labour relations has largely been erased.

“We should never underestimate the courage of these women,” said Barking and Dagenham Council leader Darren Rodwell.

“Fighting for equal pay in 1968 was not a popular cause. Not only were they taking on Fords, but they took on the Government, some members of their union, and men in their workplace who didn’t agree with their action.”

Guests at Stour Road, who included girls from two of the borough’s schools, heard speeches from Liverpool city region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Caroline Simpson, trade union Unite’s regional equalities officer for north London, and a presentation on the struggle for equal pay from Sarah Jackson, co-founder of East End Women’s Museum.

Simpson called “incredible” to hear the strikers’ stories first-hand.

“Their impact on women’s working rights in this country is immeasurable and while you can debate that the Equal Pay Act would have eventually come into play, I have no doubt that it would have taken a lot longer if it wasn’t for what they did,” she added.

“To see these people back together and the emotion it brought up was amazing.”

While the 1968 strikes were hailed as an important victory for the sewing machinists, the women only won their demands after returning to the picket lines a decade and a half later.

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