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History
THE REUNION
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THE REUNION - 1968 FORD MACHINISTS' STRIKE
Sunday 7 September 2003
11.15 am, repeated Friday at 9.00 am

Sue MacGregor meets some of the people involved in the 1968 Ford machinists' strike.

l-r back: Sander Meredeen, Bernie Passingham; l-r front: Lil Grisley, Sue MacGregor, Sheila Douglas, Violet Dawson.



In the summer of 1968 a small group of women at the Ford factory in Dagenham went on strike. They were protesting about the re-grading of their jobs - they felt they'd been treated unfairly compared with the men working in the plant. The women worked as sewing machinists, making seats for the thousands of cars which were produced there. They believed that because they were women, their work wasn't valued and they were determined to get equality. Within weeks they'd come close to stopping production at all Ford's UK plants.

The women's protest was soon taken up as a battle for equal pay and the strike was only ended when Barbara Castle, the Employment Secretary, invited the machinists to take tea in her office and talk over their problems. The women didn't know it, but they were walking into the history books: their protest led directly to the passing of the Equal Pay Act.

Lil Grisley, Sheila Douglas and Violet Dawson remember the hard work and the fun of work in the factory. They recall their outrage when they realised that they were being put in a lower grade than men doing less skilled work. This was an era when it was accepted that women would be paid less than men, but these women were not prepared to accept what they saw as an injustice.

They'd never been on strike before and they remember the excitement and the fear of flexing their political muscles for the first time. They vowed they'd stay out for a year if necessary and declared that they were sure equal pay would come one day.

The weeks of the strike were a time of tension and hardship. Many of the women's husbands worked at Ford and not all of them supported a strike which might lead to them being laid off.

There was fun too: Lil Grisley remembers marching in London with a banner declaring "We Want Sex Equality". "I wondered why I was getting so many hoots from passing lorry drivers, then I realised the last word on the banner was missing".

Violet remembers the meeting with Barbara Castle, who spoke to them all in turn and donated 10.00 to their hardship fund. "When the press had gone, Mrs Castle opened her drinks cabinet and we all had a drink".

The women's Union Convenor was Bernie Passingham. He's reunited with Sander Meredeen, who was a member of Ford management, for the first time in more than 30 years. The two men relive their battles, including the crucial meeting at which Passingham announced the strike was going ahead, and Meredeen told him to "go ahead and do your worst".

The strike had enormous consequences for all working women and led directly to the passing of the Equal Pay Act two years later.

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THE REUNION 2004

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Sue MacGregor
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