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28 October 2014
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Matchworkers committee
© TUC Library Collections, London Metropolitan University
Setting the workers alight: the East End Match Girls' Strike

On 5th July 1888, a group of between one and two hundred girls crowded around the offices of the left-wing journal The Link in Fleet Street, causing “considerable excitement” in the neighbourhood. The girls were workers at the Bryant & May match factory at Bow Road, in London’s East End, and they had marched out of work in defiant protest after the unfair dismissal of several of their friends, running straight to The Link to seek the support of socialist Annie Besant.

“Pale, thin, undersized” and “ragged”, the match girls were unlikely heroines of labour militancy, and yet their strike proved to be the spark for a new social movement within British labour - “New Unionism”. The girls’ solidarity challenged contemporary stereotypes of unskilled workers as weak and passive, and their victory inspired the rise of unskilled unionism, which took hold of the country in the 1890s, affecting the lives of workers nationwide. More...

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