Dagenham Ford strike: How it was reported in the Post 50 years ago
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 June 2018
Ford Dagenham’s striking women machinists faced prejudice over their historic act in the media as well as the street.
A weekly back then too, the Post published the story five days after the walk out began on June 7, 1968 under the headline ‘First strike by Ford women’.
In the first paragraph readers were told the strike over unequal pay threatened ‘to disrupt production and result in the laying off of thousands of men’.
The paper recognised the dispute’s historic significance but the focus was on how continued action could see 8,000 men laid off at the company’s Dagenham River plant.
But the women’s determination and defiant spirit were captured well by one striker interviewed who said: ‘“We know what we want – we won’t give up until we get it”.’
A National Union of Vehicle Builders official added: ‘“They will stay out for a year if necessary”.’
In journalist John Hill’s report a Ford spokesman said the company wouldn’t respond to the bargaining on offer.
Following a meeting inside a packed Leys Hall two days earlier a spokesman for the shop stewards committee said of the situation: ‘“This is as indefensible as colour and race issues.
‘“The girls feel that they have a trade. This is discrimination entirely on sex grounds”.’
Three weeks later the Post reported that Ford’s ‘crippling strike’ had ended after the company offered to pay the women 92 per cent of the men’s rate.
A meeting between eight strike committee members with minister for employment Barbara Castle to end the dispute was described as a ‘woman to woman chat over cups of tea’.
The ‘women rebels’ scored ‘a notable victory’, according to the paper, with Ford left counting losses after a ‘severe’ strike ‘which cost 14,320 Cortinas’ and loss of £8million.
A glum sounding company spokesman said: ‘“These losses can never be made up – the cars have been lost for good”.’
Rev Eddy Stride of St Mary’s church, Dagenham, was quoted from a Church of England newsletter saying women were entitled to a ‘mansize pay packet if they do a mansize job’.
Not one woman was quoted in the report.
That summer was an eventful one in Dagenham and the country with student riots and debates about divorce law raging in parliament.
Dagenham MP John Parker argued ‘out of love’ married couples should be allowed to divorce after a five year separation.
In May local elections saw the Conservative Party deal ‘a shattering blow’ to Labour picking up 12 seats in the council and ending the careers of some of the party’s ‘most experienced councillors’.
There was cause for celebration at the end of May when Dagenham beat Enfield one nil to bring the London Senior Cup back to Victoria Park ending a ‘nagging fear’ they would end the season without a trophy.
Students from Barking College of Technology argued they were too busy to rebel in the July 3, 1968 edition.
Student Peter Scott-Dewar said: ‘“We are not rioting because we have not the time”.’
A sad story from June 26 revealed the death of 59-year-old Dr Michael Stanton who shot himself in the heart with a revolver at his Becontree Avenue surgery while on bail pending an Old Bailey trial. He was charged with using an instrument to procure an abortion.
A story which gripped readers was the so called ‘torso’ murder with the dismembered body of 19-year-old factory worker Sarabjit Kaur, of Fanshawe Avenue, Dagenham, discovered on a train between London and Wolverhampton.
The robbery of £4,700 from the Wallis supermarket in Goresbrook Road, Dagenham, saw the doors blown off a safe and windows shaken up to 50 yards away in July.
But there were happier stories. In one the Queen Mother played cupid to make sure army private Roger Hawkins was excused from a rehearsal for a royal visit to Tidworth barracks so he could go on honeymoon in Clacton with bride Linda Price, of Coote Gardens, Dagenham.uninterrupted.