Equal pay heroes honoured

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date: 5 June 2006

embargo: For immediate release

Some of the women behind the legendary Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, which paved the way for the introduction of equal pay legislation in the UK, are to be honoured later today (Monday) by equal opportunities charity, the Wainwright Trust.

The ex-sewing machinists from 1968 - Violet Dawson, Sheila Douglass, Vera Sime - and Bernie Passingham, the T&G convenor who helped them win their pay fight against the car manufacturer, will receive the Wainwright Trust's Breakthrough Award presented annually to the unsung heroes of the equal opportunities world. Also being honoured are three of the women who concluded the Ford equal pay struggle 16 years later, T&G senior shop steward Dora Challingsworth, Geraldine Wiseman and Pam Brown.

And, with the help of generous funding from the Trust, the TUC is to ensure that the memories that the women have of those heady days in the late 1960s are not forgotten. An oral history film - made for the TUC by film-maker Sarah Boston - is to be the first piece of footage stored in the newly launched TUC equal pay oral history archive.

The personal stories of the women will be the first of six films to go into the TUC archive. The next - due to be shot later this month - will be of the women cleaners who successfully won equal pay for work of equal value through comparing their work with groundsmen at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast in 1995.

The TUC hopes to seek additional funding to develop the archive into a comprehensive resource for researchers keen to delve deeper into the struggle for pay parity since the legislation was introduced over 30 years ago.

The Ford sewing machinists were among the first women to challenge the discriminatory pay systems which, before the 1970 Equal Pay Act, saw women, both in the public and private sector, generally being paid on separate, lower rates of pay. The women who made the seat covers in the Ford factory earned only 92 per cent of that paid to the unskilled men who swept the floors, and just 80 per cent of what the semi-skilled men took home.

The women, angry that their employer was not taking their claim for equal pay and regrading seriously, took industrial action, and as cars could not be sold without seat covers, rapidly brought production at the Dagenham plant to a halt. Following a meeting with Barbara Castle, the then Secretary of State for Employment, the dispute was resolved.

So impressed was Barbara Castle by the case put by the sewing machinists that she pushed for the introduction of the Equal Pay Bill, which became law in 1970 (though it didn't come into force until five years later). But the dispute about unequal pay at Ford didn't end until 1984, when a second generation of sewing machinists finally won their claim for equal pay for work of equal value.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'The women of '68 and their union convenor are the unsung heroes of the equalities world. Their insistence that they would not put up with being paid less than men doing similarly skilled jobs launched the equal pay struggle that we are still fighting to win today.

'Although the gender pay gap in the UK remains one of the largest in Europe, the fight that the Dagenham women started, and the legislation their action helped introduce, has enabled thousands of women to win equal pay cases against their employers. And with the setting up of the TUC equal pay archive, we can ensure that their memories of these pioneers will be with us forever.'

Susanne Lawrence, Chair of the Trustees of the Wainwright Trust, said: "David Wainwright was a true pioneer in the field of equal pay in the UK and the Trust is therefore delighted to be able to play such a key role in setting up an archive which will recognise the importance of some of the major cases in which he was involved and the women he helped."


- The Wainwright Trust's Breakthrough Award is to be presented during its annual 'Question Time' evening (6.30 for a 7.00pm start) on Monday 5 June, taking place at the Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1. Business consultant and broadcaster René Carayol, seen most recently presenting the BBC programme 'Pay off your mortgage in two years' will chair a panel consisting of Mike Fairey, Deputy Chief Executive of the Lloyds TSB Group; Caroline Gooding, Special Advisor and Director, Disability Rights Commission; Loraine Martins, Head of Equality and Diversity, Audit Commission and Frances O'Grady, Deputy General Secretary of the TUC.

- Past winners of the Breakthrough Award include the EOC's employment policy director, Sheila Wild, equal pay specialist Sue Hastings and Margaret (now Baroness) Wall and Sara Leslie for their work on the speech therapists' claim (the Enderby case). For further details and tickets

contact the Wainwright Trust at [email protected] (Tel 01920

821698) or Susanne Lawrence (020 7299 9911). The website address is -


- The Wainwright Trust was set up in 1987 to commemorate the life and work

of equal opportunities pioneer David Wainwright, whose untimely death that year was regarded as having left a major gap in the provision of knowledge, expertise, drive and understanding necessary to bring about change in the area of equal opportunities at work. Accordingly, the Trust's charitable objectives concern the promotion of equal opportunities in the workplace and

were extended in 2002 to incorporate age, disability, sexual orientation and religion, as well as gender and ethnic origin.


Media enquiries: Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07778 158175; E:

[email protected] or Susanne Lawrence T: 020 7299 9911; M: 07780 881223; E:

[email protected]

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