The women workers’ occupation of the Sexton’s shoe factory in Fakenham, Norfolk, spring 1972

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 The unions organised a  mass meeting and threatened an occupation,  leading to most redundancies being withdrawn, but  not those of the women workers in Fakenham.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.












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