Although many biographies have been written about her, The Castle Diaries, the diaries that Castle wrote of her time in politics are often regarded as the best political diaries of the time, and offer a fascinating insight into her experiences and motivations in parliament and public life.

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The Donovan Report

The Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations, also known as the ‘Donovan Commission’ and its resulting output as the ‘Donovan Report’, was set up to examine labour law in the UK. Chaired by Lord Donovan, the Royal Commission comprised representations from unions, employers and the legal profession and was tasked with examining written and oral evidence submitted by over 500 sources.

With stark similarity to the economic and social instability of the last 10-15 years, the 1960s were fluctuant for the economy and the labour market. As now, this resulted in an increasingly vocal labour movement, and unions criticised for the system and consequences of collective bargaining and their alleged unwillingness to move with the technological times[1]. The Commission was set up to better understand and address issues within industrial relations, and the role of trade unions, against a backdrop of successive governments concerned with wage-driven inflation[2]

Although making no explicit mention of women’s pay or any gendered issues within industrial relations, the report proposed a number of reforms, including a mechanism for recognition of unions within workplaces, improved collective bargaining, implement legally enforcing collective agreements, and improving the efficacy of industrial tribunals, and the safeguarding of employees against unfair dismissal..[3] In highlighting the disjuncture between national and workplace collective bargaining, the Donovan Report, perhaps, highlighted why collective bargaining in the UK would be unlikely to result in equal pay for women across all industries and sectors and therefore the necessity of legislation to achieve gender pay equality.


Ford Dagenham Dispute

The Ford Motor Company has handled many pay-related strikes over the years, but none as well-known and ingrained in public consciousness as the 1968 Dagenham dispute. The dispute, taken by women sewing machinists at the plant in 1968 was popularised by the film and stage music Made in Dagenham! in which Barbara Castle is seen to support the female shop stewards by promising them equal pay legislation. The real-life dispute dramatized in the film involved some 187 female machinists striking after their jobs were regraded at the unskilled Category C rate, meaning that they were paid 85% less than their male counterparts on Category B.

The strike lasted three weeks, and was ended by intervention from Barbara Castle, and a deal that increased the women’s rate to 8% less than the men. An inquiry failed to result in regrading to true equality, and women were only regraded to the category B rate after a further strike in 1984.

Professor Hazel Conley writes in more detail about the dispute’s role in the history of equal pay, and the significance of the Scamp Report in her article, Revisiting the 1968 Ford Dagenham Dispute, Again

Image – TUC Library at London Metropolitan University,

[1] Robert F. Banks Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations, vol. 24, n° 2, 1969, p. 333-382.

[2]   Brown, W. (2019) The Donovan report as evidence‐based policy. Industrial relations journal. [Online] 50 (5-6), 419–430.

[3] The Donovan Report on British Industrial Relations Reform. (1968). Monthly Labor Review, 91(8), 44–50.