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These films in the TUC Recording Women's History series make up a unique oral history archive. They explore the trade union struggle for equal pay through the eyes of participants - by industrial action (Ford, Dagenham) and the law courts (Julie Hayward, Belfast cleaners, Hull fish packers, speech therapists, Yorkshire Dinner Ladies).
The interviews give a voice to women, and men, who have made history and changed employment law. Many of the women saw themselves as 'ordinary' women fighting to right a wrong. But they are not ordinary. They are the women who, with their trade union representatives and legal advisers, helped establish the value of women's skills in the last twenty years of the twentieth century. They won lasting changes to pay and grading structures - benefiting millions of women in both the private and public sectors.
The idea for the filmed interviews first came to me while listening to a BBC radio interview with the women who took part in the Ford sewing machinists strike in 1968 - a strike that was to finally push the Government to pass an Equal Pay Act two years later. The Ford women were reminiscing between themselves, remembering so many little details that put life into the inspiring story of their strike. The women from Dagenham, on strike because they were on a special 'women's' grade below that of unskilled men, were surprised that women around the country, and an increasingly vocal women's movement, supported their strike. They vividly described going to the Houses of Parliament and their shock to be asked for their signatures by 'teachers, lawyers and professional ladies'. They remembered their meeting with the then Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, describing how she kicked her shoes off, sat on the sofa and asked them about their work. They laughed about the way most of the men at the large Dagenham plant supported their strike - but then their husbands began to complain about not getting their tea after they had been on the picket line for a week! But most of all, I was struck at the vivid way they described their work as highly skilled sewing machinists making car seats without patterns - and their indignation at being graded lower than unskilled male floor sweepers.
These women were getting older, and some of the strikers had passed away. I resolved then that their story, and the stories of other women who have fought for equal pay, must be recorded for history. I had been involved in equal pay issues for nearly 30 years in different jobs, and while at the TUC, I had worked with the unions and lawyers featured in each of these five landmark legal cases. There were stories that needed to be told. If we didn't do it soon, we would be too late. It was important to create an oral history of an important trade union struggle, seen through the eyes of the contemporary participants.
It took some time to work out the best approach and the practicalities - not least how to raise the funds. A discussion with film director Jenny Morgan soon moved the project on and we prepared outline budgets. Sue Hastings, who has always been generous with her time and knowledge, was recruited to write a series of notes on the cases we decided to film. An initial budget was drawn up - hopelessly unrealistic, as it later turned out! The TUC backed the project with both finance and generosity in allowing me enough time to see the project through - a much longer and more ambitious enterprise than originally envisaged. The Wainwright Trust, set up 20 years ago in memory of David Wainwright, supported the project. David was Julie Hayward's expert in the very first equal value claim lodged in 1984. His strategy in arguing Julie's case was a crucial factor in the success of that case and was a model for future equal pay legal battles. The Trust agreed that the films would be a fitting tribute to David. After making two pilot films, we were able to make a successful bid to the European Social Fund and Equal. In addition, three universities have supported individual films - Strathclyde University Department of Human Resources co-funded the speech therapists film and has used clips of the films in on-line postgraduate learning; St John's College, Oxford supported the Asian Women Working at Ford film; and the University of Warwick was a co-funder with the TUC of the 29 minute documentary 'The Equal Pay Story: scenes from a turbulent history'.
I had no idea of how difficult and time consuming the project would be. There were practical problems of tracing potential interviewees and persuading them to get involved. Union colleagues were asked to help track down applicants in landmark cases, as well as find photos, documents and memorabilia. Many of the Ford women and the speech therapists had stayed in contact with each other, and the Belfast Unison office took on the task of contacting their members in the Royal Victoria Hospital. But it was difficult to track down the women in other cases. Finding Julie Hayward involved phone calls to two of her workplaces, an old home number and then tracking her down through several departments in the London Borough where she now works in the Youth Service. The Hull fish packers were particularly hard to trace because many had married and changed their names, and then had been re-housed in a regeneration of the dock area - a chance conversation with a waitress in an excellent Hull fish and chip shop helped direct us to one of our interviewees!
We wanted to archive the legal and union documents for each of the cases but were shocked to discover how few records, beyond formal legal judgements, remain. We found no records of Julie Hayward's case, the first equal value claim to be lodged in 1984. Neither her union, the GMB, the Equal Opportunities Commission, which supported her case with the GMB, nor the barrister representing Julie had any records. Even the Cammell Laird shipyard, where Julie and her comparators worked, no longer exists. Union amalgamations, office moves and retirements mean that papers get thrown away. For this reason, the TUC is working with the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick to set up a new Equal Pay Archive as part of the MRC archive of modern industrial relations. Sue Hastings has given her comprehensive files of cases and grading reviews to the new archive. The MRC welcomes collections of legal or negotiating documents on equal pay to add to its collection.
There were many people involved in winning equal pay battles. It was important to get everyone's story. Without the financial, practical and moral support of their union, none of these women would have been able to see their cases through - a point that Pam Enderby brings home, with her husband's worry that they might lose their house if her case was lost - a needless worry because the Manufacturing Science Finance union (MSF) and the EOC funded the fifteen year case from start to finish. We also wanted to hear the story of the male union officers who challenged the injustice of unequal pay with such dedication and commitment - men like Bernie Passingham (Transport and General Workers' Union), Ray Gray and Tom Foster (Unison), Vincent Donaldson and Brendan McCarthy (Unison, Northern Ireland) and Pete Allen (TGWU). The film of the Yorkshire Dinner Ladies gives a wonderful glimpse into the warmth and solidarity between the women, union official and male comparator. And Pete Allen's passion - even obsession - for equal pay in the fish packers' film positively jumps off the screen! In each of the films, the practical expression of trade union solidarity was both moving and inspirational.
The films feature leading equal pay lawyers and experts - Lord Lester, QC, (speech therapists) David Pannick, QC (Julie Hayward), Sue Hastings (Ford, speech therapists), Sara Leslie (speech therapists), Sheila Wild (Julie Hayward, Hull fish packers, speech therapists) and Tess Gill (Julie Hayward) have all worked with the TUC over the years to help develop strategies to make equal pay a reality in the workplace. I am grateful to them for their willingness to share their considerable insights on film. Undoubtedly this will be an aspect of the series that trade union employment law courses and university students will find invaluable.
Once we surmounted the various practical difficulties of making the films, we had to work out how to preserve the oral history record in a way that would be accessible for decades to come. My colleague, Rob Sanders, developed a design for the series, which he patiently adapted to all 17 DVDs in the series, as well as producing the notes for each film as colourful brochures. In the course of producing the series, I have learnt more than I wanted to know about the technical aspects of making films, producing DVDs, and copyright licences -it was all more complex than anticipated!
Funding from the European Social Fund/Equal meant that we were able to incorporate the films and notes into a new microsite within The Union Makes Us Strong website. The London Metropolitan University was responsible for setting up the website and streaming the 10 minute edited versions of the films you can now view on your computer. There are also links to help you order hard copies of the DVDs of the full-length interviews from TUC publications. These longer DVDs are worth watching, not only for the fuller detail of the case but because there are different aspects - such as employment practice or social history - that can be developed through using clips of the interviews. For example, in the long version of Speaking Out for Change, speech therapist Lisa Thompson is filmed working with children in South London. It gives a good idea of the sort of skills and demands that were the basis of the speech therapists' case. Interestingly, Lisa was the legal secretary to Sara Leslie, who represented Pam Enderby and her colleagues throughout the case. Lisa became so interested in the issues that she decided to retrain as a speech therapist herself! In the Hull fish packers full length film, Pete Allen talks about how he began to challenge the job evaluation process in the Hull fishing industry and the women talk about the hard life of a fisherman's wife - and the constant worry about their men folk at sea. The long film of the Ford sewing machinists contains anecdotes, stories about factory life in the 1960s and other insights into social history. Julie Hayward tells us about an industrial culture that is not found today - mass strikes and pickets outside the shipyard gates, the solidarity of her male colleagues on the night shift as they helped subvert management's victimisation of her after the success of her first case.
One film in the series is different because it is not about equal pay. After the Ford sewing machinists were filmed, the TGWU struck a special medal to mark the 1968 and 1984 strikes. More than 70 women who had worked as sewing machinists were invited to the TGWU head office to receive their medals, among them 15 Asian women. They had a fascinating story to tell. Some of them were among the first immigrants from the Indian sub-continent to arrive in the UK in the early 1960's and 1970's, They talked about their experiences and, in particular, how much they enjoyed working at Ford, Dagenham. They readily agreed to be interviewed. Getting everyone together was challenging - while many of the women were retired, some were still working at the Dagenham site. But they work a 24-hour shift system and were on different shifts! The result is a first hand account of their route to London, what life was like for them when they arrived in Britain, and how things have changed for their children and grandchildren. Notes, written by Adina Batnitzky, St John's College, Oxford, set out the social and economic context with pictures of each of the six interviewees.
The 10-minute and longer filmed interviews, together with the notes, are great first hand accounts for use in schools, unions, and tertiary education.
European funding enabled us to commission Jenny Morgan to make a longer documentary film tracing the struggle for equal pay from the late 1880s. The film The Story of Equal Pay: scenes from a turbulent history uses extensive archive footage - for example of Mary Macarthur, General Secretary of the National Federation of Women Workers, speaking in support of striking women box workers in south London, and of the 'bus-girls' strike for equal pay in 1918, which brought London buses to a standstill in the First World War. The film traces the arguments about the male breadwinner pay packet and the way that women in trade unions fought their corner to ensure equal pay was on the bargaining agenda. There is footage of the strikers at Trico in the 1970s, and interviews with women who were involved in the women's movement and trade unions at the time. This is a very high quality film with an informative commentary. It would be an ideal centre-piece of an International Women's Day event, a women's summer school, a class-room activity or a university lecture. The film menu is divided into easy to use chapters - Background, Early Campaigns, WW11 Experience, The Civil Service Rises Up (1951-1955) Equal Pay Act, and Equal Value Amendment. It is only available as a hard-disk DVD from TUC Publications.
I have greatly enjoyed producing this series of films and resources. We were fortunate to have such talented film-makers as Jenny Morgan and Sarah Boston, as well as the help and support of many others.
These life stories demonstrate what a long way there is to go before women are paid fairly at work. The UK has one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe. Women's skills remain undervalued and low paid. This is an injustice that must end.
We owe much to the women and men in these films. They fought for a principle. They helped us understand the value of women's work and the concept of 'equal pay for work of equal value'.
I hope these films will inspire a new generation to keep fighting.
And join their union.
TUC Senior Equality and Employment Rights Officer
Executive Producer for TUC Recording Women's Voices