They call Margaret Thatcher the “Iron Lady,” but did you know there was a Labour Party lady who, as Secretary of State for Employment under Harold Wilson, mid-wifed equal pay legislation in the United Kingdom?
Her name was Barbara Castle, and she was a force to be reckoned with. A Baroness raised as a socialist, she was fiery and firmly on the side of the working class. Barbara was as steely as they come.
In 1968, the machinists in the U.K. Ford factory at Dagenham went on strike. All were women. All worked at sewing machines making seat covers. All were paid much less than men at the factory because their jobs were listed as unskilled. The strike closed down production of Ford Escorts because no seats were available to install.
The women worked at the Dagenham factory in terrible conditions. In the heat, they shed their clothes and worked in their underwear. They considered it normal. The roof leaked so badly that they rigged umbrellas over their stations to shield them and their sewing machines from the rain. Paid 15% less than men, they struck on June 7, 1968.
Union officials from Michigan contended that corporations would never survive if they paid women equally to men. Honchos from Ford tried to pressure Castle saying they would move their operations if she did not cooperate. Instead, she met with the striking women, managed a compromise for the moment (pay at 92% of what men received), and finally got an equal pay act in 1970.
We are not there yet in this country although industrialized nations followed the U.K. lead more than 40 years ago. Amazing!
Equal pay for equal work! Why are we so far behind?
There is a movie about this that I just watched. I strongly recommend you find a way to see it. I saw it on Starz.
Brava, Barbara and the lady machinists of Dagenham! Real-life s/heroes!
Bonus: There is a bit about bullying in this movie. By teachers. It has been known to happen.