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The 1968 equal pay strike at Dagenham

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In 1968 some 850 women machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham, east London, struck for equal pay.
Issue 2220

In 1968 some 850 women machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham, east London, struck for equal pay.

The women made car seat covers, but were paid only 87 percent of the wages of men doing the same job.

Many of the women were former dressmakers. They told management that they were as skilled as paint spray operators in the plant and wanted to be on the same pay level.

The strikers were soon joined by the women at Ford’s Halewood plant in Merseyside.

After a three-week strike that brought Ford’s entire car production to a standstill, the women settled for a deal that brought them to within 8 percent of male pay.

At the time, striker Rose Boland described the spirit of the strike to Socialist Worker, saying, “During the three weeks we were on strike all the girls worked hard and they always stuck together.

“In fact, I don’t think I saw my husband or son during the whole three weeks.”

In the years that followed, women’s trade union membership soared. And, although a victory in itself, the strike is best-known as the inspiration behind the introduction of Britain’s first equal pay legislation.

The strike gave a push to Labour’s employment minister Barbara Castle to steer the Equal Pay Act into law in 1970. The act made it illegal to have a separate pay rate for men and women.

It also set out the concept of “like work”, so that those whose work was rated as equivalent to another job, but were paid less, could go to an Employment Tribunal.

Forty years on, women in full-time work are paid, on average, 17 percent less than their male counterparts.

When it comes to part-time work, the figures are worse—there’s a 36 percent gap between men and women.

The Ford’s strike shows that when it comes to fighting for equal pay, strikes are often more effective than the law.

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