Ethos Education

Made in Dagenham: What is a Christian approach to the subjects of employment, labour relations and trade unions?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of reasons why Christians might be concerned about issues of social justice.
  • Understanding of Christian teaching about how Christians relate with the State.
  • Consideration of the tension between personal conviction and authority.
  • Awareness of different forms of protest.
  • Awareness of the role of local, national and international pressure groups.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the relative responsibilities of government and trade unions.
  • Analyse a number of Bible passages to discover what the Bible has to say about injustice, employment and worker-employer relations.
  • Analyse websites to discover the role played by individual Christians in the growth of the British Trade Union movement.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a continuation of a discussion between characters in a film clip.


Put the students into groups of five or six, and play a word association game. You say a word, and each student in turn (make them agree the order in which they are participating in advance) says another word that they associate with your word. Someone in each group should write down all of their contributions. Repeat this exercise with the following selection of starting words:

  • Hardship
  • Government
  • Responsible
  • Union

Ask the students to feed back their answers for some of the words. Ask the students whether they think that the sample of responses gives a fair view of governments and trade unions, or a distorted one. Allow some time for discussion about the perceptions of the students concerning the respective responsibilities of these two groups.

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be thinking about the role of government and trade unions in protecting the rights of ordinary working people, and looking at the role played by Christians in formative days of the Trade Union movement.


Show the following clip from the film Made in Dagenham (Paramount 2011, certificate 15). Click here to buy a copy of the DVD online.

Explain that the film is set during the 1960s, and focuses on the strike action taken by female workers at Ford’s car factory in Dagenham. At the time it was legal for employers to pay different rates of pay to men and women for the same work. The changes in the law that made such practices illegal were a direct result of the industrial action of the Dagenham women. In this scene, Rita (Sally Hawkins), is complaining to the male union leaders about the letters the women have received after holding a one-day strike. Ask the students to pay particular attention to how Rita goes about achieving her objectives.

  • Start time:       0.40.19 (in chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.46.34
  • Clip length:      6 minutes and 15 seconds

The clip starts with Monty (Kenneth Cranham) saying, ‘Ignore it’. The clip ends with Rita asking a group of women workers in Liverpool to vote on whether or not to support their strike action, and saying, ‘Yeah!’ when the vote is overwhelmingly carried. Please note that this clip includes several instances of swearing. You will have to decide whether your class is mature enough not to find this a distraction. You could easily cut some of the swearing by using a shorter version of the clip, but it would be hard to find a worthwhile version with no swearing whatsoever. If this makes the clip unusable, you may prefer to summarise what happens and simply refer to the film rather than showing the clip.

Ask the students to summarise the means that Rita used to pursue her goal of equal pay for men and women. Possible answers would include withdrawal of labour (i.e. strike action), public demonstrations, speeches. Do the students agree or disagree with the approach Rita took? What (if anything) did she do that was right, and what (if anything) did she do that was wrong?

Working in pairs or small groups, ask the students to look up the following Bible passages and write a short summary (one or two sentences) for each describing how it might be applied to the industrial action in the first clip.

Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; Jeremiah 22:13-17; James 5:1-6; I Timothy 5:17-18; Amos 5:7-17; Romans 13:1-5.

Allow students to feed their answers back to the whole class, and use the discussion time to ensure that they have understood the significant points from each passage.

Introduce a second clip from Made in Dagenham. Explain that this clip comes a little earlier in the film than the previous one. Here, after the women have taken their initial day of industrial action, Albert (Bob Hoskins), one of the union organisers, persuades Rita to get more involved in the dispute. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the reasons Albert gives for his commitment to this particular issue.

  • Start time:       0.31.03 (beginning of chapter 7 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.34.10
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 7 seconds

The clip starts with Albert seeing Rita and knocking on the window of the café to get her attention. The first line is Albert saying, ‘I’ve just been round your house’. The clip ends after Albert asks Rita, ‘Just sleep on it, will you?’ Please note that the clip includes one instance of swearing (Albert refers to bosses in general as ‘exploiting bastards’). If you feel this is inappropriate for your class, you might prefer not to use this second clip.

Ask the students why Albert was so concerned about the issue of fair pay for women. Draw out that his mother’s experiences had enabled him to see the impact and unfairness of inequality for himself. Explain that many people involved in social campaigning, both inside and outside of the Trade Union movement are motivated by their own experiences. Some are also influenced by the values instilled in them as a result of their religious beliefs.

Point out to the students that many of the people involved in leading the early years of the Trade Union movement in the United Kingdom were Christians. James Kier Hardie, who was a pivotal figure in the formation of the Labour party (which, of course, grew out of the Trade Union movement) was raised an atheist and became a Christian in 1897. The following quotation makes clear that his faith was a large part of his motivation in political activism:

I have said, both in writing and from the platform many times, that the impetus which drove me first into the Labour movement, and the inspiration which has carried me on in it, has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.

(quoted on

As a research task, you could ask the students to write a short summary of the role of Christians in the growth of Trade Unions in the United Kingdom. Two websites which may assist their research are listed here: A summary of Christian Socialist movement, and the part played by Christians in the development of the Trade Union movement. Dozens of relevant links to individuals as well as a general overview. A history of trade unions, which includes the role of Christians. The two sections headed ‘Trade Unions’ and ‘Ethical Socialism’ respectively are particularly helpful.


Ask the students to rewrite the conversation between Albert and the other union officials. This time, instead of only quoting Marx, Albert should justify his position with reference to Bible passages and other sources with significance for Christians. The discussion should demonstrate the student’s understanding of the issues that would be significant for a Christian in deciding how they engaged in protest against some form of authority, whether that be employers, government or something else.


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