Nearly 200 female workers walked out of the Ford Motor Co. plant in Dagenham, England, during the summer of 1968, protesting their unequal treatment. The Dagenham women's strike led to widespread attention and important equal pay legislation in the United Kingdom.
The 187 Dagenham women were sewing machinists who made seat covers for the many cars produced by Ford. They protested being placed in the union's B grade of unskilled workers when men who did the same level of work were placed in the semi-skilled C grade. The women also received less pay than men, even men who were also in the B grade or who swept the factory floors.
Eventually, the Dagenham women's strike stopped production entirely, since Ford was unable to sell cars without seats. This helped the women and the people watching them realize how important their jobs were.
At first, the union did not support the women strikers. Divisive tactics had often been used by employers to keep male workers from supporting an increase in women's pay. The women of Dagenham said that union leaders did not think much about losing a mere 187 women's union dues out of thousands of workers. However, they remained steadfast and were joined by 195 more women from another Ford plant in England.
The Dagenham strike ended after Secretary of State for Employment Barbara Castle met with the women and took up their cause to get them back to work. The women were awarded a pay increase, but the re-grading issue was not resolved until after another strike years later, in 1984, when they were finally classified as skilled workers.
Working women throughout the UK benefited from the Dagenham women's strike, which was a precursor to the UK's Equal Pay Act of 1970. The law makes it illegal to have separate pay scales for men and women based on their sex.
The film Made in Dagenham, released in 2010, stars Sally Hawkins as the leader of the strike and features Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle.