Daggers heroes return to equal pay fight

Article @ Morning Star, published 17 December 2014

Ford Dagenham’s famous women strikers were back on the front line of the fight to end Britain’s gender pay gap yesterday — almost 50 years after their historic victory.

Gwen Davis, Vera Sime, Eileen Pullen and Sheila Douglass marched on Parliament with Mind the Gap campaigners as MPs voted on equal pay.

The women — whose 1968 strike was the inspiration behind the Made in Dagenham film and musical — picked up placards once more to tackle the 23 per cent chasm between men and women’s salaries.

Ms Pullen told the Star that it was a shame that “this time 50 odd years ago we were doing the same thing.”

And they scored another victory yesterday as a backbench Bill to strengthen the Equal Pay Act was passed by a whopping 258 to eight.

Labour MP Sarah Champion’s Bill would force companies with more than 250 employees to make their pay roles public.

Ms Champion told Parliament that she was “ashamed” that “equal pay is still no more than a promise” 44 years since the Equal Pay Act was passed as a result of the Dagenham strike.

She and Labour shadow equalities minister Gloria de Piero joined the Dagenham strikers at an event in Parliament hosted by Unite and Grazia magazine.

The union and women’s magazine joined forces to launch the Mind the Gap petition for equal pay.

Grazia editor Jane Bruton said: “Since Grazia launched its pay gap campaign in June, we’ve heard from countless women who are paid less than their male colleagues simply because of their gender.

“This is an issue we shouldn’t even be discussing in 2014.”

According to the Office for National Statistics women still make just 81p for every £1 made by their male counterparts.

Actor Gemma Arterton — who is currently starring in the West End adaptation of Made in Dagenham — came out in support of the campaign too.

“It’s something I’m deeply passionate about,” said the former Bond girl.

“It’s not just about pay, it’s about being treated with respect and it’s about equality.

“Of course any man worth their soul should be supporting this campaign.”

Despite the day’s victory, the measure is unlikely to reach the statute book as it lacks government support.

Shadow women’s minister Gloria de Piero regretted how Britain was “way down the table of European countries when it comes to equal pay.”

She said: “The government say that they want pay transparency too but they are not willing to take the final move to make companies do it and that’s why it’s not working.”

Strikers point to workers’ solidarity

Dagenham’s humble heroes thanked their union, workers’ solidarity and a female minister for their courageous stand against the bosses as they reflected on equal pay yesterday.

Sheila Douglass — who worked as a sewing machinist at the Ford car factory — told the Star: “We didn’t think we were doing anything at the time — it’s only since the film came out that we realised how brilliant we were.”

Their power she argued came from women knowing their own worth.

Her former colleague Eileen Pullen thought that the solidarity between then Ford women workers was vital to their struggle.

But she also thought they had to thank their luck for having the support of minister Barbara Castle.

Ms Castle helped bring the Dagenham dispute into the public eye and get the Equal Pay Act approved by Parliament two years later.