AFTER "MADE IN DAGENHAM"
If you've seen the film Made in Dagenham, you probably remember a strong character, an astonishing lady who's played a very important part in the growth of Women's power -- since she was a minister at the time.
Barbara was born four years before WW I, educated in a socialist family, noticed at an early age for her uncommon abilities, yet constantly underestimated by her father. She wanted to prove so much to him, but he never saw what she became. Her name was Barbara Castle ...
Who was Mrs Barbara CASTLE ?
- Barbara Betts, the daughter of a tax inspector, was born in Bradford in 1910. Her father was a member of the Independent Labour Party and she was converted to socialism at an early age. Castle was educated at Bradford Girls' Grammar School. Barbara became friends with Mary Hepworth, a cash-desk girl who shared her committment to socialism. "Barbara had some sort of an intellectual battle with her father, who never felt that she did her brains justice. I think he expected too much from her at her age."
-One of her best friends at Oxford University was Olive Shapley. She pointed out that she was very popular and had "a comet-like tail of men in pursuit". Olive later recalled: "She was small and pretty, and I think she disliked being pretty. She had these beautiful fine features, lovely little nose and beautiful skin and hair, and I think she would rather have been more dramatic looking."
-In 1932 Barbara began a love-affair with William Mellor, already forty-four, only six years younger than her father and exactly twice Barbara's age. He was glamorous, confident and married, with a baby son. He became her mentor, her alternative father, a man who loved her totally and compellingly
-In the 1935 General Election, Barbara Betts helped William Mellor who said : "Barbara is working like a Trojan and speaking like an angel." They established the Socialist League, which upset the leaders of the Trade Union Congress. In January 1937, a radical weekly was launched, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." Mellor Betts, Michael Foot, and others agreed to write for the paper. In October 1937, Barbara was sent by The Tribune to report on the situation in the Soviet Union; in the same year, the Socialist League was dissolved. In1942, William Mellor died. In July 1944 Barbara married the journalist, Ted Castle.
-Castle worked as housing correspondent of the Daily Mirror during the Second World War; in the 1945 General Election she was elected to represent Blackburn in the House of Commons. Soon afterwards Stafford Cripps, the Minister of Trade, appointed Castle as one of his aides.
- Chairperson of the Labour Party (1958-59) then Minister of Overseas Development (1964-65) and Minister of Transport (1965-68) in Harold Wilson’s Cabinet. She introduced the 70 mph speed limit, breathalyzer tests for suspected drunken drivers and compulsory seat belts. In 1968 Castle became Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (1968-70). In 1969 she was brought into conflict with the trade unions and the left-wing of the Labour Party.
- Secretary of State for Social Services (1974-76). In this post she introduced child benefit and established the link between pensions and earnings.
- a member of the European Parliament (1979-89) where she served as vice-chairperson of the Socialist Group (1979-86) and in 1990 joined the House of Lords.
- She died in 2002
- Barbara's biggest achievement, of course, was the Equal Pay Act, introduced in 1970 following the strike by women workers at Ford's Dagenham plant. Women MPs were few and far between – indeed, there were more MPs called John than there were women in the House of Commons
Barbara Castle was a hero to millions of British women. She inspired a new generation of women to become active in Labour politics. Modern politics would have been very different if she had succeeded in reforming Britain's outdated industrial relations laws in the late 1960s: her defeat at the hands of Jim Callaghan and the union barons paved the way for the "winter of discontent" and Thatcher's landslide a decade later. Today, when some trade union leaders are trying once again to turn the clock back, we need a heroine like Barbara Castle to remind us that being a moderniser is entirely compatible with a commitment to social justice.
Tags: Castle (Betts-) Barbara, equal pay, Wilson (Harold), Labour Party
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