The women, whose story was immortalized in the film "Made in Dagenham" were protesting about being placed on the unions B grade list of unskilled workers when men who did the same work were placed in the semi-skilled C grade. The women also received less pay than the men, and not just those who had had be classified at the higher grade - they also received less than the men who were also in grade B.
The women also encountered the problem that the union did not initially support their strike. The women alleged that the small number of women in the workplace at the time meant that the union were not concerned about losing their union dues given the thousands of male workers.
The women were joined by another 195 Ford workers from another factory and, as Ford couldn't sell cars without seats, their action stopped production of Ford cars. The strike only came to an end when the Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, met with the women and took up their cause. They were awarded a pay rise but even then they returned to work being paid only 92% of what the male machinists received. The grading issue lingered on until another strike many years later in 1984.
Equal pay and conditions for women in the workplace was already an issue in the 1960's as more and more women joined the workplace. However, the attention brought by the Ford workers action made it headline news and created momentum which then assisted Barbara Castle's efforts to get the Equal Pay Act 1970 onto the legislative books. When the legislation was debated in parliament the women were identified as playing a "significant part in the history of the struggle for equal pay".
It is well known that there is still a gender pay gap in the workplace. The gender pay gap is not quite the same thing as equal pay as the gender pay gap measures the difference between men and women's average salaries and causes include the concentration of women in lower paid occupations and the fact that they remain less likely to progress to senior levels. The Government Equalities Office reported the gender pay gap as being 19.1% in 2016 which equates to women earning 80p for every pound earned by a male. However, progress has been made with the gap being virtually eliminated for full time workers under the age of 40. The draft Equality Act (Gender Pay Reporting Gap Information) Regulations are intended to come into force in October 2016 and, as we previously reported, include a requirement for employers with 250 or more employees to publish the difference between the average salaries of their male and female staff. Nearly half a century after the ladies of Dagenham took matters into their own hands it is clear the momentum that they started is still being felt.