Patterns of Discrimination against Women in the Film and Television Industries, a report issued in 1975 by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT), was a seminal document on gender discrimination in the workplace. Upon its publication, it was heralded as “by far the most comprehensive and informed to have been produced within the trade union movement so far” by feminist film scholar and activist Claire Johnston. However, by the time of the ACTT's first Women's Conference six years later, in 1981, Gillian Skirrow described the report as “regrettably up-to-date,” indicating that little had changed. This article examines the relationship between women and the ACTT between 1968 and 1981 to situate the report in historical context.
The Patterns of Discrimination against Women in the Film and Television Industries report by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) was a seminal publication on gender discrimination in the workplace. Published in 1975, it was the product of a two-year investigation into gender discrimination in the British film and television industries conducted by the ACTT's Committee on Equality (COE). The report illuminated widespread gender inequality by quantifying women workers' experiences of discrimination and analyzing the structures and attitudes that facilitated this discrimination. It provided an extensive list of recommendations, which included: demands for a minimum of twenty-six weeks of paid maternity leave and four weeks of paternity leave, the provision of childcare facilities within the workplace and at national union meetings, quotas on training courses, the establishment of subcommittees for women workers in local shops, and the formalization of the COE's position within the ACTT as an elected committee with official power within the union structure.1
Upon its publication the Patterns report was heralded as “by far the most comprehensive and informed to have been produced within the trade union movement so far” by feminist film scholar and activist Claire Johnston.2 Women activists in the ACTT anticipated that the findings and recommendations would provoke radical change in the union's policies toward women workers. The report provided these women activists with concrete evidence of gender discrimination in both the industries and the union that could not be easily dismissed or disputed, and would substantiate their future demands. Retrospectively reflecting on the Patterns report in oral history interviews carried out with this author, ACTT activist Sarah Boston described the conclusions of the report as “immense ammunition,” while the report's researcher, Sarah Benton, reasoned that Patterns ensured that women's experiences of gender discrimination “couldn't be dismissed as an anecdote.”3 At the ACTT's 1975 annual conference, Benton declared that the Patterns report marked “the beginning of the practical fight for women's rights.”4 However, by the time of the ACTT's first Women's Conference six years later, in 1981, the Patterns report was described as “regrettably up-to-date,” indicating that little had changed.5
This article situates the Patterns report in historical context through an examination of the relationship between women and the ACTT from 1968 to 1981. In doing so, it investigates the ways in which the ACTT operated to inhibit women's demands and analyzes women's activism within the union. In line with feminist research practices, it combines archival research with oral history testimonies to examine the relationship between women and the ACTT. It draws upon archival material from the ACTT's journal, Film and Television Technician (1956–91), and the surviving COE meeting minutes, correspondence, and general ephemera from 1973 to 1977. It also analyzes new oral history interviews with ACTT women activists—documentary filmmaker Sarah Boston and Patterns researcher Sarah Benton—conducted by the author.
This article is divided into three sections. First, it considers the catalysts for the establishment of the COE in 1973 and the demand for an investigation into gender discrimination in the film and television industries, which culminated in the Patterns report. In particular it examines the influence of the wider political climate and the emergence of feminist organizations outside of the labor movement on women's activity within the ACTT between 1968 and 1973. Second, it explores the process of the investigation into gender discrimination to illustrate the logistical challenges women encountered in producing the Patterns report. Finally, it interrogates the inertia that followed the report's publication to identify the reasons for slow progress around the implementation of its recommendations between 1975 and 1981.
1968–73: CATALYSTS FOR THE
Between 1968 and 1973, women in the ACTT were encouraged to critically assess the ACTT's role in maintaining gender discrimination in the film and television industries and to recognize its potential to challenge it. A profoundly gendered union structure had been institutionalized within the ACTT from its establishment, which operated to prioritize men's interests and exclude the interests of women workers in its organizational practices and negotiated agreements. In its analysis of the ACTT's gendered union structure, this article draws upon sociologist scholar Anne Munro's thesis that “there operates an institutional mobilization of bias which sets a trade union ‘agenda’ and which excludes a number of issues which are specific to women workers. This agenda not only serves to limit the articulation and representation of women's interests within unions, but also to direct women's activity away from collective organization in unions.” According to Munro, this trade union agenda developed within a “particular historical context” characterized by the “dominance of male, skilled, full-time, white manufacturing workers,” and as the result of a “dynamic process … shaped by, but also [shaping], the expectations and demands of members.”6 The historical context in which the ACTT's gendered union structure developed is briefly outlined here to illustrate how it shaped the relationship between women and the ACTT.
The ACTT was established in 1933 as the Association of Cine-Technicians (ACT) in response to a deterioration in working conditions following the introduction of the 1927 Cinematograph Act—protective legislation designed to stimulate film production—and the subsequent production boom, which saw technicians working increasingly long hours in precarious employment.7 The organizing principle of the ACT was initially that of a craft union that would represent “skilled” workers and promote their professional identity.8 Craft unions have traditionally mobilized a gendered notion of skill to exclude women workers from union membership through “grading and segregation.”9 During the ACT's formative years, unionization concentrated on male-dominated grades in the British film industry, such as camera operators, and prioritized the interests of male technicians; female-dominated grades such as clerical workers in the laboratories were not systematically organized until the 1950s. The ACT introduced equal pay into its agreements in 1935, but the gendered union structure excluded women workers from its equal pay policies in practice.
World War II consolidated the gendered union structure of the ACT and facilitated its establishment as a pre-entry closed shop, whereby membership in the union was vital to securing employment in the industry. The union was appointed as the “official vetting body for war-time film technicians,” and so administered the assessment of which roles were granted reserved occupation status.10 Membership in the ACT was an essential requirement to receive reserved occupation status, and by the end of the war the ACT had achieved 100 percent membership in the film industry.11 It continued to focus on unionizing male technicians during a significant period of institution building that solidified its identity and control of the film industry labor force. The ACT's response to the influx of women workers into the film industry during World War II further consolidated gender inequality, as the union negotiated agreements and introduced organizational practices that functioned to safeguard men's wages and conditions. For instance, in 1940 the ACT successfully negotiated an agreement with the British Film Production Association that stipulated the terms of women's employment in the film industry during the war. This agreement reflected the Extended Employment of Women Agreements established between trade unions and British industries, which consolidated the segregation of men's and women's work and made explicit that women performing men's work were employed on a temporary basis, only for the duration of the war.12
Following World War II, the 1947 Demarcation Agreement clarified the remit of the ACT and confirmed its representation of the film industry's technical grades.13 The agreement was negotiated between the three unions operating in the British film industry: the ACT, the National Association of Theatrical and Kine Employees (NATKE), and the Electrical Trade Union (ETU). A number of grades that were historically female dominated, such as wardrobe and makeup, were represented by NATKE.14 Television workers at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were alternatively represented by the BBC (Wartime) Staff Association and the Association of BBC Engineers, established at the outbreak of World War II. In 1945, the two associations merged to form the BBC Staff Association. The Staff Association did not operate as an independent union, but was instead considerably dependent on the corporation.15 Following the emergence of commercial television in 1955, the ACT extended its remit to include television technicians, demonstrated by the addition of an extra T in 1956, and the BBC Staff Association was renamed the Association of Broadcasting Staff (ABS). In 1970 NATKE belatedly followed suit by adding an extra T to become the National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees (NATTKE). While the ACTT was not officially recognized by the BBC, some BBC staff were members of the ACTT, as demonstrated by the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) membership database, which includes ACTT membership forms from 1933 to 1989.16
Before the establishment of the COE in 1973, there was no significant challenge to the ACTT's gendered union structure. In fact, a Women's Committee established during World War II operated to safeguard the jobs of conscripted male technicians. This is demonstrated both by the rhetoric of the committee and the ambivalence of its members. At the committee's first meeting, General Council member Kay Mander called for women workers to participate in the ACTT because of their “particular duty to see that trade union organization continues and that when the war is over the full rights of employees have been preserved.”17 Mander's statement positioned the committee as a strategy to protect the employment rights of male technicians rather than an opportunity to define and defend women's interests. Women's “particular duty” to trade union organization was also emphasized by women union leaders in the wider labor movement; for instance Florence Hancock, the national women's officer of the Transport and General Workers' Union, called for women workers to “develop a Trade Union consciousness and … shoulder more responsibility.”18 Penny Summerfield has questioned what the labor movement's vision of women workers as the guardians of men's jobs had to offer women, and certainly the same could be asked of the ACT's attitude to women workers during World War II.19
The wartime Women's Committee was short-lived, with its recorded activity confined to the end of 1940 and the beginning of 1941. Mander retrospectively described the committee as a “dead disaster” in a 1988 BECTU oral history interview because the committee members, most of whom were unmarried and childless, “weren't the sort of women who wanted crèches” and so “saw no bonus in having a women's section.”20 Mander's testimony suggests that the Women's Committee ultimately failed because the ethos of separate self-organization contradicted the attitudes of the women technicians on the committee.
The postwar period witnessed a significant increase in women's paid employment and trade union membership, the extension of educational opportunities for girls and young women, and attitudinal shifts toward marriage and sexuality, which contributed to women workers' growing discontent with their continued low status in sex-segregated jobs during the 1960s. In television, women's workforce participation and union membership largely followed these postwar trends. The advent of commercial television (ITV) in Britain in 1955 saw an increase in the number of jobs available to women. In particular, production assistant roles expanded starting in the late 1960s, as programming became more complex and the number of companies proliferated. These factors contributed to women's employment in ACTT grades within ITV, which increased at a faster rate than men's starting in 1969.21 The television branch was the largest in the ACTT, with 39 percent of the union's membership, and represented the greatest proportion of women workers, with 49 percent of the ACTT's female membership.22
Women's employment in both the film laboratories and film production contradicted these postwar trends. The proportion of women workers in the laboratories declined from 25 percent in the early 1960s to 14 percent in 1974, as the introduction of new technologies and associated job losses disproportionately impacted women workers.23 In fact, Andrew Dawson and Sean P. Holmes argue that gender segregation became more rigid in the laboratories during the 1960s, as women were “concentrated in a narrow range of occupations, systematically excluded from most traineeships, and discouraged from applying for jobs in men's departments.”24 Similarly, women's membership in the ACTT's film production branch drastically declined by 18 percent between 1969 and 1974, compared to 9 percent for male membership, because of stagnation in the film industry, which had resulted in high levels of unemployment, an increasingly casualized workforce, and an embargo on new entrants.25 Middle-class women in broadcasting were consequently the driving force behind the women's struggle in the ACTT, as they sought to expand their career prospects beyond “dead-end secretarial work and advance in a range of administrative and production jobs.”26
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, an intensification of global protest movements, human-rights initiatives, and anti-imperialist struggles engendered a sense of impending revolutionary change within activist circles. In Britain this political culture found its expression in the New Left and the women's liberation movement, which together propelled a new generation of trade unionists to challenge traditional trade union structures rooted in the postwar ethos of strong national union leadership, and advocate greater democratization through the devolution of power to rank-and-file activists.27 Sarah Boston observed such a shift in the ACTT, noting that activists “started moving into the unions, particularly in ACTT … to push for a left-wing agenda.”28
There was an upsurge in industrial militancy within the British labor movement between 1968 and 1974, during which the frequency of strikes increased from less than 5 million days lost to strike action in 1968 to 13.5 million in 1971 and 23.9 million in 1972.29 These strikes were often unofficial and orchestrated by rank-and-file union members; as such, industrial action was “outside and often in opposition to the established union structure and leadership.”30 Many of these strikes were also overtly political, as they protested the Conservative government's curtailment of rank-and-file union activity through anti-union legislation, such as the 1971 Industrial Relations Act.31 There were a number of significant rank-and-file victories for the labor movement in this period, including the 1972 and 1973–74 miners' strikes, the 1971 work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, and the release of the Pentonville Five in 1972. The rank-and-file challenge to traditional trade union structures created a favorable climate in which women could acknowledge and challenge the role of trade unions in the maintenance of gender discrimination.
The emergence of the British women's liberation movement in 1968 also facilitated the challenge to gender discrimination within trade unions and encouraged women's activism. The movement had its origins within the student movement and political activism of the New Left, in groups such as the International Socialists and International Marxist Group, and equal pay campaigns in the labor movement.32 Many women involved in the women's liberation movement had gained their political education in the New Left and student movements, learning “how to organise” and “work politically.”33 However, the “aggressive form of masculinity” prevalent within these movements sidelined women's gender-specific concerns and encouraged women activists to “[turn] their new political consciousness to their own situation.”34 The interests of feminists in the women's liberation movement and women workers in trade unions coalesced in the 1968 sewing machinist strike at Ford Dagenham. This women-led strike demonstrated the industrial strength of women workers and encouraged increasingly impatient women activists within the wider labor movement to demand action within their own unions, marking a “radical turning point” in women's militancy in the British labor movement.35
The 1970 Equal Pay Act further galvanized women's activism within trade unions, as its shortcomings provoked the realization that equal pay did little to challenge the structures of discrimination.36 During the five-year implementation period of the Act, women's activity expanded beyond equal pay and turned to campaigns around equal opportunities, including childcare facilities, paid maternity leave, abortion rights, and equal access to education and training. As activity extended beyond equal pay within the wider movement, the ACTT could no longer rely on its traditional assertion that equality had been achieved through its equal pay agreements.
Sarah Boston's oral history testimony offers invaluable insight into the revolutionary atmosphere in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, and its influence on women's activism in the ACTT. Boston emphasized the significance of the political climate, mentioning the events of 1968, the activity of left-wing organizations, and the influence of the women's liberation movement:
What I want to stress … is about the whole economic, political, social climate of the early seventies, with feminism really taking off, all those ideas in ferment. We've had Paris '68, we've had the Vietnam demonstrations, we've had all of that feeding in to the early seventies and feminism really sparking and all those left-wing groups it was just—and aesthetically, too, all the arguments about how you made political films—all of that buzzing around. And the political context being that we, we saw trade unions as the body through which we could best try to change things for women.37
The omnipresence of left-wing, feminist ideas and activism encouraged women activists to see the ACTT as “a place to fight for women.”38
The emergence of feminist organizations outside of the ACTT and the labor movement provided women activists with an external impetus to challenge the ACTT's gendered union structure. The London Women's Film Group (LWFG) proved a reliable ally to women in the ACTT and played a significant role in the establishment and activities of the COE between 1973 and 1975. Established in January 1972, the LWFG was comprised of women filmmakers who produced films collectively and interchangeably performed roles at every stage of production. Informed by the consciousness-raising politics of the women's liberation movement, it aimed to “disseminate Women's Liberation ideas” and enable “women to learn the skills denied them in the industry.”39 The LWFG was also committed to pursuing gender equality through trade unions, as illustrated by the films of its members. For instance, Susan Shapiro's Fakenham Film (1972) documented the successful occupation of a shoe factory in Fakenham by women workers, and Women of the Rhondda (1973), directed by Mary Capps, Mary Kelly, and others, compiled interviews with women from the Welsh coal-mining valley, focusing on women's work and their experiences of the miners' strikes of the 1920s and 1930s. The Amazing Equal Pay Show (1974), directed by the LWFG as the group's “first major collective undertaking,” critiqued trade union attitudes toward women workers and their gender-specific demands through a scene in which a union convener dismisses women's demands for equal pay.40
Members of the LWFG exerted pressure on the ACTT to address gender discrimination in the film and television industries, as demonstrated by a letter in the January 1973 issue of the union's journal. The letter was signed by thirteen members of the LWFG, including Claire Johnston, Barbara Evans, Esther Ronay, Jenny Wilkes, and Linda Dove, and called for “a serious enquiry into the position of women in the film industry and into blatant discrimination against them.”41 A 1976 statement released by the group and the personal recollections of group members Sarah Boston and Barbara Evans further position the LWFG as a key instigator of women's challenge to the ACTT's gendered union structure.42 Most significantly, the LWFG organized an external “Women's Caucus, independently of the Union Committee,” which formulated three motions for the ACTT's 1973 annual conference.43
1973–75: INVESTIGATING PATTERNS OF DISCRIMINATION
At the ACTT's 1973 annual conference, women members (primarily from television and freelance shops) presented three motions formulated by the LWFG that called on the union to challenge gender discrimination in the British film and television industries. In his editorial following the conference, the research officer and journal editor Roy Lockett reflected on the significance of the motions: “It is one of the oddities of ACTT's history that before the beginning of 1973, the demands made at the Conference hadn't been heard at any level of the ACTT's structure.”44 In her longitudinal study of women in the British labor movement, Sarah Boston later identified the 1973 conference as the moment when the ACTT was “shaken from its complacency.”45 The three motions were the first time women's demands challenged the ACTT's gendered union structure, and so the conference marked a significant watershed in the relationship between women and the ACTT.
The first motion, moved by Maxine Baker, a researcher at the BBC, proposed “six practical moves”: the greater representation of women in official union positions; support through shop stewards and union committees for women experiencing gender discrimination; agreements on maternity leave and childcare provision; the introduction of training schemes for women workers; action to address gendered socialization; and challenges to “anti-female propaganda” in the media in favor of a more “realistic image.”46 This motion committed the ACTT, in principle, to the central demands of the women's liberation movement. These demands had been agreed upon at the movement's first national conference at Ruskin College in 1970 and included: equal pay; equal access to education and employment opportunities; access to free contraception and abortion on demand; and the provision of free twenty-four-hour nurseries. The “six practical moves” outlined an intended path for women's activity in the ACTT, and indeed, campaigns on maternity leave and training provision were undertaken alongside the investigation into discrimination between 1973 and 1975. The motion also enshrined a commitment to these “six practical moves” within union policy to legitimize women's future activity.
The second and third motions called for an investigation into gender discrimination in the British film and television industries and the appointment of a researcher to conduct this investigation. These motions were put forward by Jenny Wilkes, a delegate from the Thames Euston branch, and Esther Ronay, a freelance shop member. They reflected the central objectives of the COE upon its establishment, as specified in its “Report to Annual Conference,” including: “to investigate the pattern of employment of women within ACTT's areas of organisation” and “to examine the most effective and relevant means by which any discrimination can be overcome by trade union activity and policy.”47 Research into the nature of women's oppression was a central element of the women's liberation movement, as activists were “acutely aware of the importance of understanding women's past for potential women's activism.”48 For instance, influential texts such as Juliet Mitchell's “Women: The Longest Revolution” and Sheila Rowbotham's Hidden from History, first published in 1966 and 1973, respectively, provided a historical analysis of women's oppression.49 In British broadcasting, the BBC's Board of Management responded to pressure to address contemporary debates around equal pay and sexual discrimination legislation in Parliament by commissioning a confidential internal report on the position of women in the BBC in January 1973. The resulting report, Limitations to the Recruitment of Women in the BBC, illuminated the discrimination faced by women workers in the corporation and detailed management's opposition to recruiting, training, and promoting women.50 The women's demand for an investigation within the ACTT thus followed wider trends to address gender discrimination in the workplace and society at large within both the women's movement and the broadcasting industry.
The practicalities of appointing a researcher and conducting the investigation shaped the remit of and response to the Patterns report. The appointment of a researcher was a slow process, and it was seven months before Sarah Benton was officially employed in December 1973. In the months preceding her appointment, there was considerable controversy over the role between ACTT women activists and the union leadership, which was invisible in the union journal but detailed in correspondence archived in COE files held by the BECTU Head Office. While the third motion had specified that the researcher should be a “paid woman officer,” the ACTT's Finance and General Purposes Committee recommended a male candidate, Andrew McNeil, over the committee's recommendation (Benton).51 In response, a petition was circulated among women union members and acquired eighty signatures. The petition protested the reduction of the timescale of the appointment and the recommendation of a male candidate, both of which “[perpetuated] the situation this project was designed to combat.”52
The union leadership responded to the petition by censuring the women's protests. In a letter to the signatories, General Secretary Alan Sapper condemned the women for bypassing the established routes of activity within the ACTT: “We pride ourselves as a Union on our democratic processes and underline the need for these processes to be observed in the letter and spirit.” In condemning the signatories, Sapper dismissed their criticisms and confined women's union activity to “democratic” forms permitted within the gendered structure of the ACTT. Sapper's letter further detracted from the signatories' concerns by condemning the women's behavior and its imagined impact on McNeil: “Your action of circulating a letter so damaging to a person's career was both unnecessary and totally unfair.”53 Anne Munro, in her analysis of female ancillary workers' experiences of trade unionism in the mid-1980s, observed that the behavior of women often became the focal point of debate in order to dismiss their challenge to the trade union agenda.54 In his response to the petition, Sapper similarly shifted focus onto the women's behavior to undermine their challenge to the gendered union structure of the ACTT.
Benton's recollections of the dispute illuminate the importance of the appointment of a woman to the researcher role. Prior to her appointment, Benton was involved in the establishment of two women's liberation groups, at Warwick University and in Sheffield, and was conducting historical research on the Sheffield labor movement in the 1920s and the 1922 engineering lockout. Her activism and research experience made her the COE's preferred candidate. But the men involved in the interview process were “very hostile” to her candidacy because she “knew nothing about television.” Benton speculated that the men's opposition was rooted in a desire to maintain the status quo: “I think that the thing about, that you didn't know anything about television, really confirms that they wanted it to be an inside job, and it would have been a little nudge-nudge, you know, sort of piece of work.”55 With Benton's appointment, the feminist activists won the argument for a woman officer. This victory significantly influenced the union's response to the Patterns report in 1975. Benton recalled that there was no organized opposition to the report because the argument had been “won” prior to the commencement of the investigation through the appointment of a “young feminist who didn't know anything about television or film” over “the person the chaps wanted.”56
In 1975, the ACTT published the Patterns report, which summarized the findings of the COE's two-year investigation into gender discrimination. It revealed that women workers were confined to “sexual ghettoes” in the British film and television industries. Women were completely absent from half of more than 150 grades represented by ACTT agreements, while 60 percent of women were concentrated in three grades: production secretary, continuity supervisor, and ITV production assistant. The report further revealed that only 25 percent of women workers were covered by the ACTT's equal pay agreements, thus undermining the ACTT's long-held assertion that the union had achieved equality for women from its establishment.57 The analysis was divided into eight sections, reflecting the eight significant causes of discrimination identified by the investigation: blatant discrimination during the application process; the undervaluation of jobs primarily performed by women; educational and social “conditioning” and the lack of training facilities; the job structure of the industry; job insecurity; the denial of employment rights by both the state and employers; the lack of trade union representation and activity on discrimination; and the inadequacy of legislation.
The ACTT's 1975 annual conference officially committed the ACTT to the recommendations of the Patterns report, which was a significant achievement for ACTT women activists. In Women Workers and the Trade Unions, Boston emphasized the importance of the Patterns report:
The survey revealed nothing new about discrimination. But the fact that the ACTT had been prepared to study and make public the patterns of discrimination within its own orbit in a detailed manner made the report extremely valuable, not only for its own members, but for all women in the trade union movement.58
Benton similarly recollected the influence of the Patterns report within the wider labor movement, as it inspired other unions, such as the National Union of Public Employees and the National and Local Government Officers' Association, to conduct similar investigations.59
However, the ACTT's reluctance to engage with the recommendations of the Patterns report was immediately illustrated at their 1975 annual conference. First, the discussion of the Patterns report was originally scheduled for the final session of the conference at five o'clock on Sunday afternoon by the Standing Orders Committee, which was responsible for arranging the agenda of the ACTT's annual conferences. During her interview, Boston explained that such scheduling was a well-known strategy of “burying,” whereby contentious motions would be placed toward the end of the agenda to ensure a limited discussion.60 While Boston did not recall any such accusations against the ACTT, the meeting minutes of the COE reveal that the discussion of the Patterns report was rescheduled for three o'clock upon the request of the COE, indicating their concern that the discussion would be buried in the later time slot.61
Second, in her critique of the Patterns report, Johnston noted the limited distribution and discussion of the report at the 1975 conference: “There was virtually no debate of the issues and the individual recommendations, and the Report itself has not been circulated to the membership as a whole.”62 This criticism is supported by the archival evidence available through the union's journal. For instance, advertisements for the Patterns report reveal that “it was only possible to distribute a limited number of copies of the full Report to [union] shops free of charge” due to the cost of production.63 Copies were sold to members for 25p, and so distribution relied on the personal commitment of members to purchase the report. Furthermore, the journal's coverage of the conference proceedings indicates that the report's findings were discussed via a selection of examples, but that the recommendations were not explicitly addressed and the practicalities of their implementation were not detailed.64
Third, ACTT women activists encountered derision from male delegates at the 1975 conference. While there was no organized opposition, the male delegates made their hostility apparent by belittling the Patterns report. Benton recalled: “They didn't have an argument that they could put cogently in opposition, they really just wanted to deride it.” This derision took the form of “silly jokes about the women.”65 For instance, the Film and Television Technician's coverage of the 1975 conference recorded a “controversial speech” from ACTT member Charles Smith, who denounced the Patterns report as “prejudice” for its conclusion that women workers were confined to “sexual ghettoes” while those jobs predominantly performed by men were deemed to be discriminatory, claiming that women wanted to “[have] it both ways.” Smith proceeded to criticize working mothers because he considered child-rearing to be the “most rewarding job in the world”: “Any woman … who has the choice of bringing up a baby and prefers to spend her nights in the laboratory grading my negatives, is something that passes my comprehension.”66 Smith mobilized gendered stereotypes and “separate spheres” ideology to undermine the conclusions of the Patterns report, indicating the contentious nature of the report's demands among the ACTT's members.
Following the 1975 conference there was no unified strategy around the dissemination and implementation of the Patterns report's findings and recommendations within the ACTT. Meetings to discuss the report were organized sporadically, and responses varied widely throughout the union, from the rejection of the report's recommendations to the appointment of an officer responsible for addressing women's issues on the shop floor. This article argues that the gendered union structure of the ACTT operated to inhibit the implementation of the Patterns report's recommendations in light of Munro's thesis, discussed above, that “there operates an institutional mobilization of bias which sets a trade union ‘agenda’ and which excludes a number of issues which are specific to women workers.” Within this trade union agenda, men's interests are considered to be synonymous with class interests and therefore with trade unionism, while women's issues are deemed sectional and divisive. Munro further argues that “despite pressure for change, the impetus within unions is to retain the status quo.”67 Between 1975 and 1981, the ACTT proved resilient to the pressure for change exerted by women union activists through the Patterns report, and sought to maintain the status quo through inactivity around their demands. Reflecting Munro's conclusions, the ACTT's inactivity was informed by a belief system that women's issues were not trade union issues.
This belief system was evidenced by the reluctance of ACTT members (of which 85.2 percent were men) to read the Patterns report or discuss its recommendations at branch level.68 In an interview conducted by Roy Lockett, Brian Hibbert (shop steward at Thames TV Teddington) explained the membership's reluctance to read the Patterns report as follows:
Is there general concern on the Shop Committee about the kind of issues raised in the Committee on Equality Report?
Frankly, no. I don't think it's anything to do with women's equality, it's the fact that the membership generally don't read or consider documents like that. They are concerned with tackling immediate issues; they react to actual problems. It's very difficult to interest members in planning forward strategies.69
In this, Hibbert dismissed discrimination against women as a marginal problem with low priority on ACTT's agenda at shop level.
The surviving COE meeting minutes and correspondence reveal that the dissemination of the report's findings and recommendations was a slow and arduous process that encountered considerable apathy from the union's branches. Following the Patterns report's publication, the COE's activity was dominated by the organization of meetings with local shops and negotiating committees to discuss the report's findings and the inclusion of its recommendations into the negotiation of ACTT agreements. The significance of these meetings to the implementation of the report's recommendations was outlined by the COE: “The committee re-iterated its desire to meet Negotiating Committees as a matter of urgency in order to discuss those recommendations in the report which could be implemented immediately without cost to managements and to explain its point of view on other items.”70 In July 1975, the committee's minutes reported that their request for meetings had received a “scattered response” from across the film production, local radio, laboratory, and ITV branches, which was attributed to the “current economic crisis” in which “it was difficult to get committees to consider any but the most basic issues.”71 During the 1970s the British film industry was in a state of disarray, as feature film production dramatically declined over the decade, from eighty-four to forty-one feature films per year, primarily as a result of the withdrawal of American funding.72 Johnston cited the “recession in the film industry” and the “consequent weakness of the union's bargaining power” among her reservations regarding the implementation of the Patterns report.73 During the economic recession, women's demands were further diminished within the trade union agenda.
The strategy for the implementation of the Patterns report's recommendations relied significantly on the position adopted by local branches, as illustrated by the response of the Yorkshire Sub-Section of the Film Production Branch and the Laboratory Branch Committee, which produced uneven results across the ACTT. The tone of the special general meeting of the Yorkshire Sub-Section, as recorded in the union journal, mirrored wider apathy toward the report among ACTT's membership. During the discussion at the male-dominated meeting, “it became clear that many had either not read the report at all, or only given it a cursory glance.”74 Furthermore, two male members minuted their opposition to discussing the Patterns report on the grounds that the report, and specifically the recommendation for union support of abortion rights, “had nothing whatsoever to do with Union business, and that in future the Yorkshire Sub-Section should only deal with matters directly affecting its members.”75 While this response conformed to the wider belief system that women's issues were not trade union issues, the meeting also elected a women's officer, Jacqui Samuels. Samuels was committed to establishing communication networks to enable women to raise their concerns through the union. This is the only recorded incident of a section electing a women's officer in response to the recommendations of the Patterns report.
The Laboratory Branch Committee was opposed to a number of the Patterns report's recommendations and requested that the COE “reconsider some of their recommendations such as Maternity Leave, Childcare Facilities and quota [sic].”76 An Open University documentary, Patterns of Inequality D302: “A woman's work … ” (1975), recorded a laboratory shop meeting in which members voiced their opposition to childcare facilities in the workplace. Opposition was expressed through a “separate spheres” ideology, as one female laboratory member explained that such facilities would encourage mothers to reenter the workplace to the detriment of wider society: “To me the violence of today is put down to women at work with children.”77 Childcare facilities were also perceived as a threat to wages, as one male laboratory member argued: “Now if they [the management] come to us and say, I'm sorry these childcare facilities have in fact cost us X amount of money so instead of your usual five percent I'm afraid we'll reduce this to four percent, now you are discriminating against everybody in the firm who has not got a child.” From the 1960s onward, new technologies and the associated job losses in film laboratories ensured that childcare facilities were perceived as a perk beyond the remit of the union agenda among the majority of laboratory branch members.
However, opposition to the report's recommendations was not universal within the laboratories. According to Benton, Daphne Ancell, COE chairperson and the only committee member from the laboratories at the time, was essential to communicating the committee's demands to working-class women in the laboratories: “Daphne was absolutely key to getting the agreement. A lot of the working-class women thought, oh, that was just middle-class women being silly, but she thought it was important that they did it and they didn't sort of turn their noses up at it.”78 Ancell's commitment to the central tenets of the COE's activity ensured that the report's recommendations were considered at shop level in the film laboratories.
Reluctance to discuss and implement the recommendations of the Patterns report was not only apparent through the limited engagement with the report among the ACTT's rank and file, but also through hostility from ACTT's male organizers. Linda Briskin has observed that women's separate self-organization represents a significant “challenge to organizational practices” of male trade unionists, as it “simultaneously contests gender power and organizational structures.”79 In the ACTT, the recommendations of the Patterns report challenged the established structures of the union, which operated in the interests of male union organizers and workers. ACTT's organizers thus adopted a defensive strategy, acting to preserve the union structures that worked in their favor, not through active and open opposition but through implicit behaviors, such as refusing to discuss women's issues or disrupt their existing relations with management.
Benton and Boston's oral history testimonies provide invaluable insight into the hostility women encountered following the publication of the Patterns report, as they discussed the atmosphere of union meetings and behaviors of male union organizers that are invisible in the archival materials. Reflecting on the impact of the Patterns report within the ACTT, Benton attested that
there was little direct use made of the report by the actual organizers who were the sort of powerful people … in the industry, in the union. … The organizers had established their working relationships with the employers, which was essentially about pay increases. That's what they did, they negotiated in a perfectly amicable way to get more money for the workforce and they didn't take up other issues. They weren't going to go in and say, why don't you give us the crèche as well. They thought this was silly stuff; they didn't take it seriously at all.80
Boston's testimony echoed Benton's account, as she described how the establishment of the COE and the publication of the Patterns report “rocked the boat. They'd [the organizers] got everything all running very nicely [laughs]”.81
Throughout her oral history testimony, Benton described the ACTT's union organizers as a “brotherhood” that acted collectively to protect the organizing practices and structures that operated in their interests. She explained that the union's closed-shop policy required a union card to work in the industry, but that it was necessary to have a job in the industry to apply for ACTT membership, resulting in a “self-regulating” situation in which these “brotherhoods” maintained their power through the exclusion of women workers: “There were very few men in those brotherhoods who wanted to disrupt them by saying, well, actually my sister's daughter would like to be a sound man or something like that. They'd say, well, she can be an editor. You couldn't break up these ranks.” These “brotherhoods” were founded upon the male workers' shared desire to defend their position within the industry; men “didn't have to know each other but they shared a concern of maintaining status.”82 During the interview Benton was self-reflexive about her use of the term “brotherhood,” which she was applying retrospectively after reading Germaine Tillion's The Republic of Cousins (1983).83 Benton was struck by the similarities between the behavior of men in the film and television industries, particularly cameramen, and Tillion's analysis of brothers and cousins in Mediterranean countries who “patrol and police women's behavior.”84 Benton's use of the term “brotherhood” illuminates the tacit understanding among male union organizers, as well as the wider male membership, of the need to defend the structures supporting their status within the union and the industry.
The hostility of male union organizers was implicitly communicated in their behavior toward ACTT women activists. While the political atmosphere of the mid-1970s and the ACTT's commitment to the “principles of equality” ensured that the organizers “couldn't publicly stand up and oppose a motion,” their reluctance to discuss women's demands was palpable to Boston:
It's that sort of thing that you go to the pub, Nellie Dean in Soho around the corner from ACTT, you're having drinks, and you just know that they aren't going to talk to you about women's rights, that they don't want to know, they don't want to kind of engage with it, they don't want to. There's a sort of—a sort of way of them indicating their lack of commitment.85
While the ACTT had committed itself to challenging gender discrimination in principle, the union's male organizers proved that they would not advance women's demands in practice.
ACTT women activists did receive some support from individuals in the union leadership, specifically Alan Sapper, ACTT's general secretary, and Roy Lockett, research officer and journal editor. Benton and Boston both emphasized the significance of these men's help; for instance, Benton claimed that their backing ensured that there was no organized resistance to the Patterns report, and Boston described the journal as “one of our supporters on the whole.”86 Sapper and Lockett were sympathetic in part because of their larger politics: Benton called Sapper “left wing,” and Boston explained that Lockett was “young … he wasn't old and entrenched in the ways of the ACTT.”87 This support ensured that women's demands were awarded a degree of visibility in the journal following the publication of the Patterns report, for instance in articles reporting on the discussion at meetings organized to disseminate the report's findings. However, in her study of the public sector union UNISON, Munro concluded that “the [trade union] agenda is extremely resilient at a local level despite the national developments in UNISON toward proportionality, fair representation and self-organization,” and that “the expectations of members, shop stewards and union officers remain narrowly defined.”88 Despite support from the ACTT's leadership, the belief that women's issues were not trade union issues persisted among union officials and rank-and-file members.
The archived general ephemera of the COE reveals that women union activists were self-reflexive about the potential impact of the membership's limited engagement with the Patterns report and the union officials' hostility toward its recommendations, minuting: “Concern was expressed that women's issues could sink into oblivion if the impetus gained with the publication of the report was not maintained and pressed now.”89 The COE's detachment from the formal union structure was an additional factor that undermined the impetus women's activism had gained with the Patterns report. Recommendation 2.g. of the Patterns report called for “the Committee on Equality to become an elected committee of the union, representative of all branches of the union, and with the power to co-opt,” as well as for the appointment of a union official on the COE with responsibility for “matters relevant to women in the industry” and other groups facing discrimination. The proposed remit of the COE, as outlined in recommendation 2.g., included: compiling information on women's work, wages, and cases of discrimination; corresponding with the union membership regarding the activity of the committee; formulating recommendations and policies within the ACTT; and liaising with other union bodies, both internally and externally, regarding women's issues.90 However, between 1975 and 1981, recommendation 2.g. was not formally implemented, and so the COE remained detached from the ACTT's union structure, which ensured that women did not have access to the necessary mechanisms to pursue the report's recommendations.
Munro argues that women's separate self-organization “requires resources and commitment from all levels of the union”; however, the resources and commitment the COE received from the ACTT were inadequate.91 While the COE was “fully part of the union in the sense that it was serviced by the union,” which saw the ACTT facilitate the COE's activities by typing and circulating COE meeting information, agendas, and minutes, it remained isolated from the union structure, with no remit to propose motions.92 As such, the committee was unable to independently pursue its own agenda within the ACTT. The powerlessness of the COE was succinctly summarized by Helen Baehr in her analysis of women's employment in television in the 1970s and 1980s: “Implementation of the recommendations proposed in the 1975 ACTT report was made the task of the union's Committee on Equality, but as it was given no real power its sole achievement has been negotiating a maternity leave scheme in local radio.”93 To advance their demands and put forward motions, the committee instead relied on those women members elected to other committees, as Boston explained: “I don't think the Equality Committee sort of had the ability to put motions … but there were a number of women who were on the Equality Committee who were also on other committees and Executive, so it would have been fed up through that sort of way.”94 This significantly limited the committee's influence, as women workers were concentrated in a limited number of grades and so were underrepresented on union committees.95 Furthermore, the external impetus provided by feminist organizations outside the ACTT and the labor movement, which had been instrumental in the establishment and activity of the COE from 1973 to 1975, diminished between 1975 and 1980 as the women's liberation movement became increasingly fragmented toward the end of the decade. During the late 1970s, ACTT women activists increasingly focused on individual recommendations of the Patterns report, including training facilities and childcare provision, which they pursued through single-issue campaigns that were local, sporadic, reliant on external resources, and often initiated outside of the ACTT.
EPILOGUE: WOMEN AND THE ACTT INTO THE 1980S
Despite women's initial optimism following the publication of the Patterns report in 1975, the ACTT made slow progress in the implementation of the report's recommendations, and by 1981 the Patterns report remained “regrettably up-to-date.” This article has argued that the ACTT operated to inhibit the women's demands. A profoundly gendered union structure that prioritized men's interests and excluded the interests of women workers was institutionalized from the outset and maintained through a belief system that women's issues were not trade union issues. The gendered union structure was contested in the 1970s by the establishment of the COE in 1973 and the publication of the Patterns report in 1975. External feminist allies were integral to this challenge, as demonstrated by the role of the LWFG in the establishment of the COE. However, the male-dominated membership and union officials acted to maintain the status quo through apathy and inactivity around the report's recommendations between 1975 and 1981.
In 1980, the mounting frustrations of women activists within the ACTT erupted into new challenges to the ACTT's gendered union structure and the inertia that had characterized the union's response to the Patterns report. At the ACTT's 1980 annual conference, women presented two motions calling for a renewed investigation into gender discrimination and the implementation of the recommendations of the Patterns report. As with the establishment of the COE in 1973, feminist organizations provided external impetus for women's activity within the ACTT. In the late 1970s, feminist campaigning groups, such as the Women's Broadcasting and Film Lobby, emerged in response to debates around the future of television, which arose from the proposed introduction of a new fourth channel, the advent of breakfast television, and the reallocation of ITV franchises. When the ACTT failed to make progress within the six-month time frame established by the two motions, women activists demanded greater separate self-organization through a women-only conference.
The ACTT's first Women's Conference in 1981 was the “catalyst the women in the Union needed,” as it brought together women from the union's leadership and rank and file, and provided an essential space for women activists to voice their demands and formulate policies.96 The central demand to emerge was for the formalization of women's representation in the ACTT through the appointment of an equality officer, the establishment of local equality committees, an annual women's conference, and the introduction of an equal opportunities page in the union journal. These four methods of formalization were adopted by the ACTT over the course of the 1980s, and they established a network of women activists who coordinated women's activities, facilitated the formulation of policy, and advanced women's demands at all levels of the union's structure, from the ACTT's Head Office to the shop floor. However, ACTT women's activity was derailed by the socio-politico-economic climate of the 1980s that followed the election of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in 1979. The 1980s witnessed the wholesale privatization of industries, the casualization of the British workforce, the contraction of the welfare state, the curtailment of trade union rights, and the deregulation of the British film and television industries. The impetus to maintain the status quo within the ACTT, which had inhibited the implementation of the Patterns report between 1975 and 1981, was bolstered by this climate, as the threat of Thatcherism encouraged the ACTT to prioritize traditional union demands, such as wages and conditions, which had historically favored male interests.
At the ACTT's 1988 annual conference, a resolution to amalgamate with the Broadcasting and Entertainment Trades Alliance (BETA) (itself the result of an amalgamation of Association of Broadcasting Staff [ABS] and the National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees [NATTKE] in 1984) passed with 225 votes to 93.97 This amalgamation resulted in the formation of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) in 1991. Amalgamation was a key component of union survival strategies in the 1980s and 1990s, as trade unions sought to counteract financial difficulties by merging to join resources. From 1988 to 1991, women activists voiced their anxiety about the potential impact of amalgamation on the structural gains achieved in the ACTT as a result of the formalization of women's representation during the 1980s. For instance, they feared that amalgamation threatened the existence of the equality officer role and, even if the role survived, that its powers would be significantly inhibited by the increased workload of the larger union. Upon the establishment of BECTU, women's demands remained contentious, and the structural gains of the 1980s had no guaranteed longevity into the 1990s.