A film which focuses on working class struggle is still something of a rarity in British cinema. Yet Nigel Coles, director of Made in Dagenham has brought a tale of industrial action out of history books and onto the large screen, in an attempt to ‘inspire people who are struggling today’.
‘Made in Dagenham’, centred around the machinists’ strike for equal pay at the Ford plant in 1968 is not just about one, albeit crucial, strike. It is symbolic of the wider fight for justice and equality for women and the working classes as a whole, a fight that continues today like it did in the sixties. The film’s release, at a time when Tories are unleashing a ferocious attack on our society that will lead to untold numbers of job losses and worsening conditions makes its relevance to our current situation even more pronounced. By portraying the story of the Ford machinists, which paved the way for the equal pay act of 1970, Coles incites the audience to see the importance of industrial action and the power that workers wield when they unite against the bosses.
The film disseminates the way in which employers try to grind down their employees, notably by the ‘divide and rule tactic’ which dominates the film. The re-grading procedure at the Dagenham plant, which saw all the women re-branded as unskilled workers continues to be common practice in the workplace so that when the worst off section tries to act upon the injustice they are sometimes met with hostility by other workers who fear that they may see a reduction in their own working conditions if they join together to fight for equality. Cole’s focus on the progression of the tensions between the workers to the eventual support of the union for the striking women highlights the importance of a united front to fight for better conditions for the entirety of the working class.
The deception and manipulation of the bosses who in the film try to peddle the story that they ‘can’t afford to pay women the same as men’ against shots of their grandiose houses is also emphasized, serving as a further reasoning for the workers to unite against attacks on their livelihood.
Yet it is not just the bosses who come into Cole’s line of fire. The union bureaucrats, who throughout the film try to break the strike to appease the management show the importance of the mobilisation and steadfastness of the ordinary workers to safeguard against being sold out by those who have become divorced from the reality of struggle in the workplace. The determination and perseverance of strikers in the face of poverty to win their demands is praised and encourages a sense of confidence in the audience that they too have the ability to change their situation both at home and in their jobs through fighting at work where their resources are at their greatest.
A rallying cry to all workers and indeed to anyone being affected by the impending cuts, this cleverly created feel-good film celebrates the power of the people against the employers and urges those in struggle to unleash it to fight against injustice.