In early 1970s there were a number of occupations by workers of their work places in response to plans to close them down, the most well known being the Upper Clyde Shipbuilding occupation in 1971 and Fisher-Bendix in 1972. Many of the other occupations, including those by women workers – Sexton’s shoe factory in Fakenham and Briant Colour Printing in Peckham – have been forgotten
I came across the Fakenham occupation mnetioned in Socialist Woman (summer 1972) in the course of writing a post about this Marxist women’s journal which was published between 1968 and 1978. I have scanned in the report below.
Fakenham was a small market town with a population of less than 5,000 but had a number of factories attracted by cheap female labour . Sexton’s shoes was set up in the ninteenth century and opened a factory in Fakenham in 1964 which employed 45 women. Set in a mainly agricultural area, there was no history of industrial militancy.
Sexton’s was sold to an American company in February 1972 who sacked most of the workforce. The unions organised a mass meeting and threatened an occupation, leading to most redundancies being withdrawn, but not those of the women workers in Fakenham. Led by their supervisor Nancy McGrath the women occupied the factory on 17th March The occuption was run democraticlaly and the women went out and about publicisng their cause and raising money through selling the bags, skirts and waistcoats they made using scaps of material. Orders came in from unions and feminist groups.
They set up a workers’ co-operative, which was launched on 17th July 1972 in a new factory using a loan. Despite high hopes it struggled to make ends meet. and folded after five years.
The occupation was reported by Mary Holland in The Observer, 7th May 1972. It has also been featured in several books. The occupation of the Sexton, Son & Everard Shoe factory at Fakenham Norfolk which eventually lead to the formation of a Workers Cooperative known as Fakenham Enterprises by Jill Hardman (1975). Women in Control : Dilemmas of a workers c-ooperative by Judy Wajcman (1983) (who worked at the factory for a few months) and Women, Workplace Protest and Political Identity in England 1968-1985 by Jonathon Moss (2019),
It was also the subject of a documentary made by the London Women’s Film Group.