Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Made In Dagenham" with Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Miranda Richardson

This is a long overdue film. While American women were busy burning their bras in Atlantic City, the women of Dagenham, England were working in theirs. The Ford plant in which they made a living, sewing leather strips together for seats, was so hot and lacking in ventilation, that it was de riguer for the women to strip to the waist while working. Whenever a male supervisor entered the work area, the cry went up - "Man in the room!" as everyone scrambled to cover up. It's hard to say who was the more embarrassed, the men or the women.

Coupled with the deplorable working conditions was the fact that women were paid half of what men did for the same work. Economically, the late 1960's were a turbulent time in England; as taxes rose, jobs fled. In order to keep the Ford plants open, the Unions were actually allowing management to pay these women less than their male counterparts. If forced to pay the women equally, Ford announced it would leave England for another country. The Union bosses, eager to preserve their own high paying positions, did everything to sell the women out, keeping the men's wages intact.

Rita O'Grady, played by Sally Hawkins, is one of the 187 women working in a plant of 55,000 men, and she decides that she has had enough. Organizing the other women into a work slowdown is not that hard to do. And so, she does. But when the Union Steward and the Management lackey's conspire to delay her efforts, she ups the ante. Nothing less than equal pay for women will stop the slowdown, which has now become a strike. But don't cheer yet, as the strike brings on many complications.

As the strike winds on, the stockpile of seats dwindles, until there are none left. With no seats to install in the cars, the men are faced with a massive layoff. Rita O'Grady goes quickly from being a media celebrity to pariah. But she holds fast to her position. Equal pay for equal work.

Meantime, in London, the Minister of Labor, who happens to be a woman, is trying to mediate the dispute. But when she realizes that both the Union and Management are conspiring to thwart Rita and her co-workers of their just dues, she calls herself to account. After being told to stay out of the dispute by the Prime Minister, she summons Rita to meet with her. Her intentions are to get the women to wait until all the men's issues are ironed out at the Ford plant. But Rita, acting with the consent of her fellow workers, won't budge.

The Minister of Labor offers a compromise, an immediate raise to 75% of the men's wages, and a promise to discuss the issue further, if the women will just return to work. Rita settles for 90% immediately, with an Equal Pay Act to be put before the House of Commons by that August. Within the next 18 months the Equal Pay Act would be passed. Within the next few years almost all of the European countries would adopt the same types of laws. Equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

This is a fantastic movie, with a great 1960's soundtrack that really makes you feel the energy of that era all over again. It also calls into question just how effective the women's movement was in the United States. After Roe vs. Wade was settled, giving women the Right to Choose, the Equal Rights Ammendment was passed by Congress, but never ratified by the Senate. And to this very day it languishes, ignored by all, as American women still work for about 75% of what their male counterparts earn.

I'm hoping that enough women will see this film to make this issue a central theme in the upcoming 2012 Presidential Campaign. There is no good reason that the ERA has not been Ratified by the Senate in the past 38 years. There is also no valid excuse as to why the women of America have let this issue lie dormant for so long.

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