Conley, Hazel (1); Gilbert, Kay (2)
1: University of the West of England, Bristol, United Kingdom; 2: University of Strathclyde, Scotland
The fight for equal pay in the UK has been popularised by the film ‘Made in Dagenham’, in which women sewing machinists working at The Ford Motor Company at Dagenham in 1968 engaged in strike action for equal pay with men who, they argued, were doing equivalent work . The strongest point made by the film is just how entrenched sexism was in work places and wage structures prior to the equality legislation passed in the 1970s, and how brave the Ford women were to challenge such hegemonic discrimination. Further the film and previous researchers point to the pivotal role that the industrial dispute played in stimulating legislation for equal pay. What is less clear is the wider complex political, economic and industrial climate that fostered and supported institutional sex discrimination manifesting in a gender pay gap that has yet to be eradicated. Drawing on government Cabinet papers and trade union papers, this paper provides a detailed historical account of the positioning of equal pay in centralised, multi-level collective bargaining structures in the engineering sector in the years leading up to the Ford dispute and the first Equal Pay Act passed in 1970. The paper highlights the influence of political strategies of pay restraint and productivity bargaining on collective bargaining and equal pay. Our analysis of the data examines how despite discriminatory attitudes to women’s work and pay that infused trade union and government pay policy, strong women activists within and outside Ford turned the tide for those that followed.