The 1968 strike
The 1968 strike of sewing machinists at Ford factories in both Dagenham, east London, and Halewood, Liverpool, began as a grading grievance. In 1967 a new grading system for all Ford hourly-paid workers was created. This placed the women on the least skilled production grade, receiving 15 per cent less than male workers on the same grade, simply because they were women.
The strike is remembered as an inspiration to other women trade unionists and a breakthrough in the campaign for equal pay legislation following the intervention of the employment secretary Barbara Castle. The Equal Pay Act, passed by Labour in 1970, became law in 1975 – after the defeat of the 1970-1974 Tory government.
The strike ended after three weeks with a deal that gave the women an immediate pay increase and eventual parity with men on the same grade. But the original grading grievance – that the sewing machinists were not on a skilled rate – remained a sore point until the memorable year of 1984.
The 1984 strike
The sewing machinists did not forget this long injustice and in 1980 they began seriously to put right the unfairness by lodging once again the same grading grievance as in 1968. By 1984 they realised that they would not get the support they needed from the overwhelmingly male workforce and national union committees – they had to organise a strike themselves and then demand official backing. They succeeded in doing both. Their experience was documented in Making The Grade, an independent production by Open Eye Film, Video and Animation Workshop, which followed the unfinished business and the uneven support their struggle received.
By 1984 huge changes were being introduced to the car industry. For the women sewing machinists the decisive change was that men were being brought into sewing production. At the same time, the women were prevented from working elsewhere in the company. As late as 1984, an equal opportunities policy for women did not exist at Ford. Making the Grade shows a well-qualified woman machinist from Dagenham who had applied for 19 different staff administration jobs over a 20-year period without success.
The women were also being asked to repair their machines without an increase to skilled or semi-skilled rate. When they were offered Sunday work, they asked if it would that be at a skilled rate; when the company said ‘no’, they gave their own ‘no’ in response.
The strike lasted over Christmas 1984 and resulted in thousands of production workers being laid off. This was no different from countless lay-offs the women and many other workers experienced through other disputes that did not directly involve them, but it made many male workers angry. Some refused to support the women at all, and some were understanding about the justice of the argument but complained that the time was wrong. Only some of them were supportive, insisting ‘if the workers are right – the time is right’.
Other unions showed anger with the women as well, because they couldn’t finalise the annual agreement on wages and conditions due to the women’s outstanding grading grievance. The official strike continued until an agreement to accept an independent inquiry to examine the dispute brought a return to work early in January 1985.
Through the inquiry the women at last won their grading grievance and recognition as the skilled workers they had always been. They had been robbed and discriminated against for many years in one of the biggest union organised workplaces in Britain.
Their success was short lived, however. Ultimately, all of the sewing machinists’ jobs were outsourced to another firm not far from Halewood. To add insult to injury, the local paper joyfully advertised the outsourcing as ‘New jobs are coming to supply Ford Halewood!’ This was itself challenged – but that’s another story.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank