The Real-Life Women Behind "Made in Dagenham"

Gwen Davis and Vera Sime walk the red carpet in New York, November 2010.
Gwen Davis and Vera Sime walk the red carpet in New York, November 2010.

In America today, women make up almost half - 47 percent - of the workforce. But on average, they still earn only 81 cents for every dollar a man earns.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on whether or not to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act -a bill that would make it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less based on their sex.

But once upon a time, a group of fearless women in Great Britain paved the way for equal pay, and their story has gone from the factory floor to the silver screen.

It may have been "A Man's World" in 1968, but it wouldn't be for long.

"Made in Dagenham" is the true story of a group of working-class English women who walked off the job - protesting their wages at the Ford Motor Company.

"The thing is, we had to do it," said Vera Sime. "I mean, how can you work with men, doing the same job, and getting different money? It's not right, is it?"

Seventy-eight-year-old Gwen Davis and 80-year-old Vera Sime walked the red carpet in New York this past weekend, reports CBS News anchor Katie Couric. But as two of the real women behind the historic strike, they remember walking picket lines after Ford downgraded their job sewing seat covers for over 2,000 cars a day - calling them "unskilled laborers."

"They downgraded your skill level, so that they didn't have to pay you as much?" Couric asked.

"That's right," Davis said. "At the time, all we wanted was the higher grade. We didn't want to be classified as janitors, anymore - because that's what we were classed as - the same as janitors."

Davis added, "That wasn't fair. When we were actually producing something - and the janitor was just sweeping up."

The three-week strike didn't just stop production at the largest ford factory in Europe. On at least one occasion, the divas of Dagenham also stopped traffic.

Sime said some drivers honked their horns because of the protest signs they were holding. The signs were supposed to say, "We Want Sex Equality." But, if the sign wasn't unfurled completely, it read, "We Want Sex."

Their provocative action finally caught the attention of Employment Minister Barbara Castle, played in the film by Miranda Richardson. The feminist firebrand eventually got Ford to pay them 92 percent of the men's wages. Two years later, she pushed the Equal Pay Act through Parliament.

But it took 16 years for Ford to acknowledge that the women were skilled workers. Sime called that "our victory." Davis said that's "what we were fighting for all the while, wasn't it?"

While the world had almost forgotten these so-called "Revlon Revolutionaries," Sime and Davis say only now do they understand what an achievement it was to go from making car seats to making history.

Davis hopes that both men and women learn "that they must stand up for themselves and fight."

Sime added, "a man and a woman are equal if you're doing the same job."