Saturday, October 16, 2010

Made in Dagenham

The film, Made in Dagenham, is now out in cinemas. It's an exceptional film. It is an angry and joyful account of rank and file women fighting an extraordinary and ultimately successful battle to force "those exploiting bastards" (Ford in particular, capitalists in general) to pay women the same wage as men. In telling the story, yes, there is caricature, oversimplification, a few hostages to fortune, and slightly more cheerful resilience than I can usually stomach. But that's because I'm a miserable bastard.

For all that, the film intelligently grapples with the many dimensions of that struggle. I've already written a bit about the political economic background to the this strike that was so decisive in winning the Equal Pay Act, so won't go into detail. But you have the women resisting pressure from some of the male workers, from the trade union bosses, from the Ford bosses, from the media, and from the government. You have them building up confidence through struggle and gaining through it, as one character says, "a glimpse of how things could be". You have the Ford bosses dreading the prospect of a higher wage bill - womens' oppression is efficient business practice for them. You have union bureaucrats worried about whether this will divert resources away from "the blokes". You have the government desperate not to alienate Ford, and the media condescending to the women. And you have some of the most oppressed and exploited sectors of the working class winning an outstanding victory, contributing hugely to the wave of militancy that followed and peaked four years later, and gaining a sense of their potential power in doing so. Not bad for a night at the cinema.

About those small and debatable hostages to fortune? Well, here's one. Barbara Castle is too lovingly depicted. Her drive to 'regulate' the unions was compatible with Labour's agenda of building an expansionist corporate state. But, as this drive essentially involved suffocating rank and file militancy with restrictive legislation, it does not sit well within a film about rank and file militancy taking on and defeating the world's most powerful capitalists. Perhaps for that very reason the proposed 'regulations' are not dwelled upon. Another? Well, the political support behind the strike is underplayed. The sexism among many of the men is shown, but not the real support that came from many of the male workers at Ford. I raise this, though, merely to have something negative to say. It's a remarkably timely film intended, so its director suggests, to encourage people today to "have a go".