Made in Dagenham is an inspirational film, based upon real events in England in 1968. It depicts the struggles of Labor in its quest to achieve decent, living wages and some modicum of respect and dignity. At the center of the story is the plight of female sewing machinists in a Ford factory, who had been classified as unskilled in order to keep corporate costs down. They bravely went on strike, and helped change the face of labor laws for all British women in the process.
Sally Hawkins plays Rita O’Grady, a working class woman who takes on a leadership role among the sewing machinists, and helps spearhead the strike and an eventual meeting with Secretary of State Barbara Castle, played by Miranda Richardson. The film centers on the difficult, complex dynamic between men and women within the Labor movement — a much stronger movement then than now — primarily through the story of Rita and her husband, played by Daniel Mays. They both work at the same plant, and tensions develop between them when Rita is away from home more often than the husband would like, in her new role as leader. This family dynamic is contrasted with a different kind of tension, between a powerful Ford executive, played by Rupert Graves, and his beautiful and brilliant wife, played by Rosamund Pike. Feeling trapped in her role as house wife, despite her advanced education, Lisa rebels, cautiously at first, enough to help Sally and her union, even though this goes directly against the corporate and class interests her husband represents. She realizes that her real betrayal would have been to ignore the discrimination and exploitation going on at the Ford plant. Barbara Castle, the third key woman in the story, must decide how much to buck the old boys’ network as well. The political and long-lasting effects of the sewing machinists’ strike rest ultimately with her.
One of the key takeaways from the film is the realization that backroom deals don’t always have to go against the interests of the vast majority, though they seldom do otherwise. There are moments that shape the potential for myriad shifts in the wind, and if those moments are seized, real change can occur. With persistence and perseverance, the right kind of pressure, the right amount of moral outrage and appeals to the moral compass of others, things can change — even when it looks like nothing on earth will move the entrenched forces of the status quo.
Made in Dagenham. Directed by Nigel Cole. 2010
We could all learn a great deal from those women of 1968 . . . In 2011, in the midst of one of the longest protracted periods of high unemployment in our history, and the highest level of wage and wealth inequality since 1929, our current ruling elite seem bound and determined to send us back into a Dickens novel. “Austerity” for the working class, and bailouts, subsidies, tax cuts and deregulation for the ruling class. Scrooge, before his midnight conversion, would be proud. So, what are we going to do about it?
Will discuss “Never Let Me Go” a bit more in the next post.