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The Match-Makers of the East End.

The Match-Makers of the East End.
The Match-Makers of the East End.
© National Maritime Museum, London
Repro ID: H5010_20030924144457
Description: Matchmaking was one of several trades that made use of the port, the river or the canals. The principal match firm was that of Bryant and May in Bow, scene of the landmark strike of 1888. This artists impression of the matchgirls at work is something of a romanticisation. In reality, the women often worked fourteen hours a day for a wage of less than five shillings a week. However, they did not always receive their full wage because of a system of fines imposed by the management. Offences included talking, dropping matches or going to the toilet without permission. If workers were late, they were fined a half-day's pay. The health of the women was also affected by the phosphorous that they used to make the matches. This caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss and 'phossy jaw', a form of bone cancer. In June 1888, Annie Besant wrote an article in her newspaper, 'The Link', entitled 'White Slavery in London', that complained about the way the women at Bryant & May were treated. The company reacted by attempting to force their workers to sign a statement that they were happy with their working conditions. When a group of women refused to sign, the organisers of the group was sacked. The response was immediate; 1400 of the women at Bryant & May went on strike. The women at the company also decided to form a Matchgirls' Union and Besant agreed to become its leader. After three weeks the company announced that it was willing to re-employ the dismissed women and would also bring an end to the fines system. The women accepted the terms and returned in triumph. The Bryant & May dispute was the first strike by unorganized workers to gain national publicity. It also inspired the formation of unions all over the country.
Creator: The Graphic
Date: 20 May 1871
Credit line: Tower Hamlets Local History Library
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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