Saturday, April 02, 2011

Made in Dagenham

Fighting Spirit

There are some things we take for granted in this day and age, and it's always interesting to see how far we've come. Made in Dagenham is a delightful and engrossing film about one of the origins of that fight for pay equality amongst the womenfolk in the UK, from what had started out as a simple walk out in a small town, to a movement that would have taken the country, and probably much of the industrial world, by storm.

A dramatization of the 1968 strike at Ford's plant in Dagenham, William Ivory's screenplay didn't trivialize the tussle and fight between the workers and the unions that were perceived to represent their interest, and finally the employers themselves, in what would cover both the micro aspects of such an industrial action, to a wider macro economic focus with politicians and prominent business people thrown in the mix. And it is this macro aspect that I found to be refreshing because it links everything up very nicely, albeit simplistically, to show how businessmen and politicians make for strange though necessary bedfellows when talking about and dealing with the economy.

It's a reminder that we shouldn't take bread and butter issues for granted today, when there is much talk about fairness and equality at the workplace, although unions here are something quite unheard of (yes they exist, but...). It's a ringside seat to how organized class action down at the workers level can help to galvanize woes into action by employers to improve their workers lot, be it conditions or renumeration, though Nigel Cole's film also covers how unions and their leaders can be corrupted and enticed to keep the status quo, or to promise lip service to drag things out a little bit longer.

At its core it would seem it's about pay equality, with a group of female machinists responsible for putting together the upholstery for Ford's cars off the assembly line, and being awakened by Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) to the possibility of success should the women band together to make their demands heard. And the initial demands were actually very simple, and they don't need a rocket scientist to realize that working conditions have to be improved. Treating workers with respect is probably fundamental to a happy work force which will likely spiral more positives for a company, but mistreat and undermine your workers, then it's a course that's set for disaster.

So we learn of how the Ford motor company had to deal with such unpleasantness in engaging spokesperson not on their payroll or influence, and how best and fair practices have evolved from decades ago to what would be a marked improvement we see in the workplaces of today, with some minor spotlight put on the wheelings and dealings involving cocky corporations. But the larger picture comes from having the courage to stand up and be counted, and fight the good fight for what's right, instead of being satisfied with the status quo, and accepting being spoken down to. Societal mindsets involving the role of women also get a look into, through the introduction of the minor character played by Rosamund Pike.

On the micro level, this story deals with how women have their work cut out for them, when they're out in the workforce, and yet having a family to take care of when back home. It's never an easy juggle, and more of a struggle really especially when the money isn't coming in, the debts are mounting, and relationships get strained. Even on a normal day we witness how the sole responsibility for the kids become that of the mom's, and adding some complexity to the equation is how the husband tries, but fails miserably, to take on that additional household role. You may disagree with me, but the role of a woman in society these days isn't exactly a walk in the park.

Some have argued that Sucker Punch isn't really about the empowering of women, so I guess this film fills that void through its embodiment of Girl Power. It's an incredible film that deserves to be seen by a wide audience, and it goes into my shortlist as one of the best on offer this year. Highly recommended, so don't let this slip you by as it's only screening in a limited number of halls.

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