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Dagenham Ford strike: Remembering 187 women’s historic fight for equality 50 years ago today

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 June 2018

Dagenham Ford sewing machinists paid down their tools 50 years ago today in a disagreement over equality.

Dagenham Ford sewing machinists paid down their tools 50 years ago today in a disagreement over equality.

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Fifty years ago today 187 women made history by raising placards outside the Ford motor company’s Dagenham factory calling for equality.

The Ford factory in Dagenham in 1972. Pic: PA NEWSThe Ford factory in Dagenham in 1972. Pic: PA NEWS

The women – who worked as car-seat sewing machinists – wanted to be paid the same as men who were on the same skill grade and recognition as skilled workers.

It was the first time female workers had forced a stoppage at Ford’s bringing production to a halt.

The action which began on June 7, 1968, is seen as triggering the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which banned bosses from treating men and women differently when it came to setting pay and conditions.

Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas – writing in the Post – said: “Dagenham has a long, proud history of working class women standing up for their rights, and the fight they started back in 1968 is one that continues today.”

Mrs Rose Boland, shop steward for the women machinists at Ford Dagenham, smiles as she receives applause at a meeting when 187 machinists voted unanimously to return to work On the left is Fred Blake, the National Union of Vehicle Builders South East District organiser, and in the centre is Harry Freidman, convenor of the River Plant at Ford's. Pic: PA ARCHIVE/PA IMAGESMrs Rose Boland, shop steward for the women machinists at Ford Dagenham, smiles as she receives applause at a meeting when 187 machinists voted unanimously to return to work On the left is Fred Blake, the National Union of Vehicle Builders South East District organiser, and in the centre is Harry Freidman, convenor of the River Plant at Ford's. Pic: PA ARCHIVE/PA IMAGES

Also commenting in the Post, Barking MP Margaret Hodge said: “Dagenham women really made history.

“It would seem that we have come a long way since then, but we still have a long way to go.”

Ford predicted at the outbreak of the strike that 3,000 to 5,000 men could be laid off within a week.

The women faced criticism from some neighbours fearing mass lay offs and a firm determined not to respond to their demands.

But they remained determined with one reported in the June 12, 1968, edition of the Post saying: ‘“We know what we want – we won’t give up until we get it.”’

Three weeks later the strike ended with the women celebrating victory over bosses following talks over tea with employment minister Barbara Castle in which Ford agreed to cut the pay difference to 92 per cent of the men’s rate.

However, an inquiry set up to look into the regrading led by Sir Jack Scamp failed to find in the women’s favour.

The women were only regraded after a seven-week strike in 1984.

The example the strikers set has remained in people’s imaginations with film and musical adaptations including ‘Made in Dagenham’ demonstrating the enduring impact Dagenham women made on British history.

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