Hi there. I’m in London this week on business and I just want to say that I feel like Big Smoke and I have hit a new stride in our relationship and it is bliss! I am completely knackered (as they say) with jet lag and a zillion things happening all at once, but having the best time as I blink through the non-stop activity. Prior to this week, I’d never realized how profoundly beautiful London is because I’ve never seen it so sunny. Sunlight really does beautiful things to brick, let me tell you! I’m staying in South Kensington and this song is peaking at its relevance to my little life right now!
I took public transport to every single one of my meetings. I take public transport everywhere in New York, so this in of itself is not terribly notable or admirable, however my business trips almost always involve car trips of some sort because my meetings involve going to factories. This trip was no exception, but for the first time I took public transport all the way to a factory–door to door!
I’ve been reflecting a lot about manufacturing in cities lately and how important it is to find strategies for factories to thrive in urban places–be it making more manufacturing-friendly zoning, adopting additive manufacturing processes to decentralize manufacturing and bring parts of the process closer to the end consumer, or simply finding business models that can support higher wage skilled workers who cannot support themselves in an expensive place like London or New York on a minimum wage.
This last point is particularly poignant because the factory I visited is near and dear to my heart for this reason. It was and still is an operational automotive factory and in the late sixties was the site of a strike that was born from a group of female upholstery workers who realized they were being underpaid for the skilled labor they were performing in comparison to the male skilled machinists and line workers in the factory. From the accounts I’ve read (and if you happen to know how to get in touch with Sheila Douglass, Gwen Davis, Eileen Pullan and Vera Sime please witness a giant grin spread very quickly across my face), their common sense and courage are basically what Sheryl Sanbdberg espoused in Lean In, they just did it without fuss, forty years earlier.
These brave women took the equal pay issue all the way up to Barbara Castle, then employment secretary of Great Britain. Even with Castle’s support, it took 16 years to rectify the pay class to its appropriate level, but the Equal Pay Act was born and the wage and salary gap between men and women began to inch closed.
I am not the only person taken with the story of these women. I love the film about them called Made in Dagenham. It never fails to give me a nice little shot of inspiration when things seem bleak. All biopics take liberties, but I hope this one was true to life in terms of the support the women received from their husbands in picking up all the household duties when they went to the picket line. I also hope the description of the upholstery shop floor was accurate as it is very high on the list of places I would visit if time machines become real!