They didn’t have a ballot, they didn’t give seven days notice before they went on strike, and they travelled the country persuading other workers to join their action.
If it happened like that now the women from Made in Dagenham would probably be sacked, and their union would be bankrupt – its funds sequestrated by the state.
Since the strike portrayed in this film women have won the right to earn the same wages as men – but in reality they still take home about 18 percent less.
And the only organisations that can close the gap – trade unions – have been neutered.
When dispute leader Rita O’Grady asks a conference of sceptical men “when did we stop fighting in this country” it seems more appropriate now than in the strike torn days of 1968.
Rita is played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins. She’s vulnerable and nervous but blossoms as she outsmarts her bosses and the more conservative union officials.
Hawkins is destined to be an A-list star. Check her out as the primary school teacher in Mike Lee’s Happy-Go-Lucky – a film that would have won every award going if it hadn’t been released in the same year as Slum Dog Millionaire.
This movie is full of familiar faces – Geraldine James, Bob Hoskins, and Richard Schiff from the West Wing – as it tells the fictionalised story of 187 female Ford machinists who objected to being re-graded as unskilled.
It’s an accurate portrayal of the emotions people feel as they progress through an industrial dispute.
Fear, uncertainty, elation, power, and sometimes boredom.
They don’t win everything but they take back their dignity from a corporate monster which thought it owned them.
The film is nicely shot with the flats of Dagenham looking like a show estate from the former Soviet Union.
And it shows ordinary people that if they stand together they can win.
That’s why the bosses hate unions – and that’s why the workers who win us back the right to strike effectively in the UK will be heroes.
They might even make a film about them.