HAWKINS, SALLY – MADE IN DAGENHAM
A GREAT STORY
It’s such an important story, she wonders why it has not been told on screen
before, Sally Hawkins, star of Made in Dagenham, tells Sue Williams.
Back in the late 1960s, the Ford car plant in London’s north east was the
biggest factory in Europe … and its women workers were labelled among the most
militant in the world.
To today’s eyes, their demands hardly seem unreasonable – that they receive
equal pay with men for equal work – but back then, that they dared go out on
strike for nine weeks and, marching on Westminster while rallying the country
behind them, was considered by many an absolute scandal.
And the repercussions were felt around the world. Bringing the mighty Ford
empire in the UK to its knees, those sewing machinists on car seats at Ford’s,
Dagenham, eventually won their battle, and succeeding in enshrining the
principle of equal pay in the British constitution. At the same time, their
action set off parallel revolts around the world and, eventually, led to similar
legislation in most developed countries too.
"women being thrust into the limelight and rocking
industry to its core "
“It was an incredible time: women being thrust into the limelight and rocking
industry to its core and stopping the country in its tracks, sticking up for
their rights,” says British actor Sally Hawkins, who stars as Rita O’Grady in
Nigel Cole’s Made In Dagenham. “It’s such an important story, you wonder why
it’s never been told before.
“It was such a big deal at the time, and such a great victory. But, in the end,
it still took them many more years to actually attain equal pay – and it’s a
battle many women are still fighting around the world.”
Hawkins, last year’s Golden Globe winner for her bittersweet performance in Mike
Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, was thrilled to win the lead role as the main female
agitator in the comedy drama, which was originally named We Want Sex, a
reference to the half unfurled banner they carried during one march, the last
word, ‘Equality’, hidden.
"passionate, feisty housewives"
So many women in the UK still revere the actions of those 850 women, who were
probably the least politicised group ever to steal the headlines for industrial
action. “They were passionate, feisty housewives, fighting an almost 1940s
mindset in the factory,” Hawkins said when the movie was first announced at the
2009 Cannes Film Festival.
“While it might have been the Swinging Sixties in fashionable parts of London at
the time, this was Dagenham we’re talking about, and there was nothing swinging
about that part of the world.”
It’s hugely ironic that 40 years on from the Equal Pay Act 1970 which those
women helped bring into being, the battles for actual equal pay are still far
from won almost everywhere in the world.
In Australia, for instance, equal pay was, in theory, awarded to all women by
the Arbitration Commission two years later, in 1972. While that applied to all
women under federal awards, however, that only covered 40 per cent of women in
the workforce. A series of campaigns were then launched by various unions to
have the principle extended to State awards.
Yet today, women workers and unions are still striving for equality in real
rates of pay, says the organisation, Business and Professional Women Australia (BPW).
Census statistics show that the gap between men's and women's earnings changed
by less than one percent from 2006 to 2007, narrowing only slightly from 76.9 to
They point out that some women in CEO and finance positions earn less than half
of their male equivalents, the pay gap for women key management personnel is on
average 28.3% -- 11% higher than the national average gender pay gap – and the
average superannuation payout to a woman is projected at $150,000, half of the
average payout to a man in 2010-11.
“We are still fighting for some of these same issues as we were in the early
days - like pay equity and universal paid maternity leave,” says BPW President
Marilyn Forsythe. “Our aims are still as relevant today as they were in 1940
when they were first declared.”
The lack of equal pay is an issue that still deeply worries Prime Minister Julia
Gillard, too. She quotes the case of a study of the top 200 companies in
Australia which found female chief financial officers and chief operating
officers earned half the amount their male counterparts. "It is concerning when
you see data like that,” she said.
"an inspirational and feelgood experience"
But Made In Dagenham is still an inspirational and feelgood experience,
co-starring Bob Hoskins and being directed by Nigel Cole of Calendar Girls fame.
“As filmmakers, our own challenge is to create the events, both hilarious and
tragic in turn, that led to a groundbreaking law,” says Elizabeth Karlsen, of
producers Number 9 Films. “That [law] enabled the empowerment of women around
the world, although the challenges for women today remain as prevalent and
constant as they did then.”
Even more bizarrely, nowhere is the inequality of pay between the genders more
evident than in the movie world. In Australia, for instance, according to BRW,
the highest earning actor for 2009 was Russell Crowe, with an estimated fortune
of $25 million. Hugh Jackman isn’t doing too badly, either, at $16 million. But
Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, revered as one of the best female actors in the
world, could only manage $15 million, and Nicole Kidman scraped home with just
$11 million in her pay packet, despite a 2007 bonanza of $35 million.
Internationally, the story’s much the same. The world’s top-earning female
actor, Angelina Jolie (earning US$27 million between June ’08 and June ’09
according to Forbes magazine), earned only the equivalent of the tenth
best-earning male, Johnny Depp. The next three, Jennifer Aniston (US$25m), Meryl
Streep (US$24m) and Sarah Jessica Parker (US$23m) go weep.
Meanwhile, the top men powered on through unimagined wealth. Top of the list was
Harrison Ford (US$65 million), Adam Sandler (US$55m), Will Smith (US$45m), Eddie
Murphy (US$40m) and Nicolas Cage (US$40m). Jolie’s husband Brad Pitt could only
scrape into ninth place at US$28m.
"It’s sad, that fairytales about equality only exist
on the screen"
It’s sad, that fairytales about equality only exist on the screen, and not
even in those movies. “Yes that’s very true,” laughs Londoner Hawkins, 33.
“We’re still fighting those same fights, in every sphere of our lives.
“Women are paid much less then men in film, and we still have a shortage of
female directors. It’s sad to consider where we still are in 2009. The world can
still be a scary place for women. But without these women back in 1968, it could
be much worse. They started something for us that women everywhere still have to
Published October 28, 2010
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... as Rita in MADE IN DAGENHAM
... as Poppy in HAPPY GO LUCKY
Sue Williams is an award-winning journalist and columnist. Her latest book 'Outback Spirit', about a group of people who pour their love, time and energy into helping the outback and those who live there, was published in October 2010.