I have just been to see Made in Dagenham.It’s a film about 187 women machinists who went on strike at the Ford Motor Company in 1968 initially when their work was down graded from skilled. Slowly the issues broadened out into an all out strike for equal pay for women and one of the best moments in the film is seeing the idea dawning on these brave, if rather too well dressed and coiffed women, that equal pay is not only a right it’s an achievable right. It’s a beautiful film and when the men turn against them, very moving. At least, it made me cry.
It reminded me of how, ten years later in 1978, I too faced the power of my own union, the NUJ, or at least a small part of it. I wanted to take maternity leave and come back to my job at Reuters in Fleet Street. But, as the Father of the Chapel reminded me, I was just one woman with one problem and they were in the middle of fighting a pay claim for all five hundred or so journalists. To support me in my battle to keep my job open until after the baby’s birth would divert energy and risk weakening the fight for more money for us all...surely I understood that?
I understood enough to resign from the NUJ and realise I lacked the courage of the Dagenham women. I resigned from Reuters, paid back my maternity leave and became a freelance journalist and member of the ever-supportive Society of Authors. Later that year the law changed but I had produced my baby too early. It’s hard to believe these antiquated ideas are so recent, until you see the bouffant hairstyles, black rimmed eyes and fabulous Biba dresses. I remember wearing them! Discrimination against women in the workplace still exists but not quite like it did in the sixties and seventies before the law changed. The film started from a Whistledown Radio programme in 2003, The Reunion, in which the Dagenham strikers were brought back together to share their experiences and at the end you get to meet the real women.. .