1888 Matchgirls’ strike has echoes for today’s austeri...

1888 Matchgirls’ strike has echoes for today’s austerity Britain, says Unite

03 July 2013

The 125th anniversary of London’s Matchgirls' strike has a strong resonance for working people today struggling under the government’s polices, Unite, the largest union in the country, said.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland was speaking as the week-long Matchgirls festival got under way. It runs until 7 July.

In 1888, women and girls working at the Bryant and May factory in east London took successful strike action against 14-hour working days, poor pay and health problems associated with working with white phosphorus.

Diana Holland said: "125 years ago 1,400 London 'matchgirls' – women and girls who made matches – decided ‘enough is enough’ and took action against miserable pay and poor working conditions. This is a struggle that still has strong echoes for our time.

“The women working for Bryant and May in 1888 took strike action against poor pay, the health issues of working with white phosphorus and a hardline employer.

"Today when we are told by this austerity-driven government that cuts to health and safety are justified because they are a burden on business, we should remember those women and girls whose suffered horrifying health problems because they ingested the phosphorous they were working with when they ate at their workbenches.

"The new law which came in to prevent such horrors was abolished by the last Conservative government as ‘red tape’.

“Today, when the Con-Dem government claims that driving down the wages of working men and women, zero hours contracts, and cuts to health and safety initiatives are the way to deal with the global economic crisis, we should remember the successful ‘matchgirls’ strike which remains a shining example today of collective action for better conditions."

One of the highlights of the week is the learners from Unite’s United Migrant Workers Education Project (UMWEP) showing off their artwork. The Art of Community exhibition at the Mandarin Wharf Gallery, Haggerston, will exhibit artwork from this often invisible group of workers until 6 July. 


For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.