Beatrix Campbell

‘Made in Dagenham’, the new film by Nigel Cole and Stephen Woolley, captures a key moment in British trade union history. It’s about the landmark strike in 1968 by women machinists at Ford’s factory. They wanted regrading as semi-skilled workers – it came to be a strike for equal pay for women workers.

“IT FELT GORGEOUS … IT ALSO FELT ODD”

‘I remember it vividly’ , says the feminist and writer Beatrix Campbell, then a sub-editor at the communist daily, the Morning Star. ‘This was 1968. Everybody was fascinated by the strikes all over Europe, sit-ins, the most glorious theatres of resistance. And here was something in the British context that was somewhat surprising. These were working class women who were having a go. It felt extraordinary, spectacular, gorgeous. It also felt odd – in the sense that much of the riotous assembly and glorious revolutionary activism of 1968 invited support. That wasn’t true of this strike. It was somewhat shut.’

LISTEN TO BEATRIX CAMPBELL TALKING ABOUT ‘MADE IN DAGENHAM’

Bea Campbell MP3 Oct 2010 1

“THESE WOMEN WERE NEVER UNDERSTOOD”

Talking to the History Workshop website, Beatrix Campbell recalled how she got to know several of the women machinists a few years after the strike.  ‘ These were women who were never understood. They were never understood by their unions, even the best of the shop stewards and convenors who sympathised with them. They certainly weren’t understood by the trade union hierarchy. I don’t think they were really understood by the average male trade union activist.’

‘The reason is that what these women wanted sorting out was everything.’

“A HISTORIC COMPROMISE … AT THE EXPENSE OF WOMEN”

It was, says Campbell, a crucial moment for the British labour movement. ‘The trade union movement itself had engaged in a historic compromise with capitalism at the expense of women, and that has defined the history of British trade unionism for most of its life.’

‘Made in Dagenham’

“JUST GREAT TO BEHOLD”

And Beatrix Campbell”s view of the new movie? ”I hated some of the bits that were trying to get at a raunchy working class culture. However, it’s a great thing to have honoured this remarkable strike, and what is really terrific in the film is a sense of this really robust, witty, imaginative group of women, kind of on their own, who absolutely terrified some of the most powerful corporate capitalist men on earth.’

‘That’s just great to behold!’

LINKS

‘Made in Dagenham’

Beatrix Campbell

The Radio 4 programme which sparked off the making of the film

The BBC World Service’s ‘Witness’ featuring veterans of the strike

Germaine Greer and Beatrix Campbell in the Guardian

4 Comments

  1. Did you get the impression from the film that the union bureaucrats were CPers? I did, though I could have been wrong.

    In her Guardian article, Bea described Bernie Passingham – the likeable shop steward who supported the women, played in the film by Bob Hoskins – as a communist. A few days later the Guardian ran a correction to say that Passingham was a life-long Labour party member.
    A

  2. Sounds great, adding it to my list of must see soons!

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