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SYMHC Classics: The London Match Girls Strike of 1888

2021-05-01 | 🔗

This 2016 episode covers the London Match Girls Strike of 1888. This was an important labor rights event, when factory workers protested hazardous and unfair working conditions.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Hello and welcome to the podcast? I'm Tracy V, Wilson, Holly Frey Baby, have a listener request. We have gotten a few times before most recently from Maggie back in April, and that is the London match girl strike of eighteen. Eighty eight: this is an event I had heard of. Have you heard of it? No yes, yes, I knew it was really important to labour rights history of Britain yeah that was this of my knowledge. Mine doesn't go far pass that right. My knowledge was so limited that I thought these girls who were striking, where girls who sold matches does because of the sand, Christmas,
I would bet well I'd. I'd know, moreover, as a sad Christmas story with sad illustration Ojeda. But it's not notes not about girls who sold matches and most of them are not. Some of them are women. Some of them are girls, the girl do they made the matches. So that's just to clear up the first misconception, and this is not quite as jovial. A story is maybe the tone of where we just said might make it sound like here, Scots parts in it that are hard as much of history does so we're gonna talk first, a little bit about life and ease London, because even today the name, the EAST end, still conjures images of poverty and writer. Charles. And die
a little more than a decade, look slightly less than two decades before the event that we're talking about today took place, but he was one of the most famous writers to write about the Victorian EAST end of London, so think about Oliver. Twist annual kind of game We're going with this. The east end as a term for this neighborhood was actually coin near the end of the seventeen hundred's, but it was Really in the eighty is that it started to take on a more insulting connotation synonymous with poverty, overcrowding, illness and crime. One thousand eight hundred and eighty nine, a book called labor and life of the people basically surveyed and mapped EAST and South London chronicling the incidence of poverty and how people live in these neighborhoods, and from a review of the book is this quote quote much has been written of late about this. Waller and Vice of EAST London, and of that seemingly vast hoard, the arm. Of the unemployed. Most realistic picture
of starving mothers and naked children, have filled the newspapers and that's the end of the quite so even The book itself reported that a lot of people living in EAST and South London had their basic data. They meet needs met like they had enough to eat as a kind of a minimum standard, The area was notorious even at this time that we're talking about for being. Synonymous with poverty and crime, and this so called outcast. London didn't have its reputation simply because of the income level and living conditions of its residents Many of the areas residents were immigrants and minorities regarded with a certain degree of suspicion and disdain by much of middle and upper class Britain. Another key. Bread for the east ends. Reputation was the industries that were headquarters there. Many
of them were so called sweating industries, so the types of places where people work long hours and windowless rooms doing work that with sometimes dangerous and often looked down upon by the people in most in the more affluent occupations. One of these, Employers was Bryant and may match company most matchmakers at this time were young women and in the hierarchy of working poor in Victorian England, these so called match girls attended to be so. Of the lowest of the low people really looked down on girls who made matches and women who made matches in eighteen, eighty, eight, the Brian and may match factories came to the attention of Annie Besant. Most american pronunciations of this seem to rhyme with so we're going with that she was a socialist feminist reformer who, by this point, had been advocating for social change for decades.
One thousand eight hundred and seventy. She had edited the national reformer, along with Charles Bradlaugh, which advocated for things like labor rights, women's suffrage and birth control, and that last one got the two of them tried for obscenity, but they were acquitted. Bessette was also a member of the fabians is be founded in eighteen. Eighty four, the Fabian society, is a socialist organisation established to advocate nonviolent political change, in particular, to try to establish a great Britain as a democratic socialist state. Some of the other famous members in the Fabian societies, early years were George Bernard, Bernard Shaw, Hg Wells and Beatrice City. The famous the Fabian society helped form. Britain's Labor party in nineteen o six and has continued to be affiliated with the Labour party sense. Then, on June fifteenth, the brilliant and may match factory was discussed at a Fabian society meeting following a presentation by trade unionist clever
a black. The topic of the conversation was the fact that shareholders in the factory received a dividend of more than twenty percent. However, the please who made its boxes were paid two and one slash four pints or pennies per gross for their work, so to catch folks up really briefly in british money. At the time, there were twelve pence in a shilling and twenty shillings in a pound, so the basically, nothing. The members of the society pledged not to use Bryant and may matches or to buy any products from them at one end to it, to date this a little further, so she went to the factory to talk to these workers herself. They weren't, however, actually the same people that had been discussed at the meeting as people who are making the two and a quarter pants for every hundred and forty four boxes. Those people that worked at home, often with their whole fan he's making boxes as fast as possible. Besson met workers stared leaving from their shift. These are people who did things in the factory itself, doing jobs like taking them
matches off of the frames and putting them into their boxes and the conditions that these well described. Her were pretty appalling on June, Twenty three eighteen, eighty eight she published the findings of her investigation in the link, a journal for the servants of man, some of Brian and maize match. Girls were as young as eight years old. Many were immigrants from Ireland whose families had moved to London in the wake of the famine. Earlier the century in the summer. They started work at six thirty in the morning and in the winter, at eight, a m, either way the workday ended at six p m, although in other accounts the days were often as long as fourteen hours. I found a lot of sight of of source. Citing the fourteen. Our number, which will allow longer than was described in this particular article. That sparked this whole thing. Apart from these really long days, all of the work was done. Standing and the workers,
His job was emptying. The frames of their matches also had to run up and down flights of stairs every time they needed a new frame because we're only allowed one frame at a time in their working station, so this meant that they had to run up and down the stairs about three times in our and they were running because all but a few married women were paid by the peace, not by the day or by the hour, so the more work they did, the more money they got paid because the pay for each unit was tiny. For example, three quarter pence per gross fulfilling boxes of matches they were really motivated to work, is key. Is humanly possible because most of Brian and maize products worse strike anywhere matches which, as their names suggest, can be struck anywhere. This lead to problems of your work spontaneously.
Fire. While you were handling strike anywhere matches as fast as you possibly good, but the employees at the factory didn't get to take home. All of their minimum pay There was this long list of out of pocket costs in which the workers had to pay for the tools that they needed to do their jobs. On top of that, there were fines. These are some of the fines. The workers Besson interviewed, reported dirty feet three pants leaving the area around the bench. Untidy, three pence. I want to clarify that the bench and the situation is like a table or the counter that their working on that was not a seat that you sat on putting matches that had burned up during work on to the bench one or two shillings leaving matches on the bench while going to get a fresh frame. Threepence talking three pants being late, the loss of her
days pay. This was due to not being allowed in to work and a further fine of five pence. Yes, it with you late, you lost or pay until, like the break in the day, were there let you in and then you also had to pay a fine on top of your last pay workers here ash caught fire while they were working which happened a lot, because these were strike anywhere matters being handled very quickly. They basically watched hey burn up in front of them, because all that work they were doing was now gone. And then, if the frame were damaged in the fire? They could be fined or sacked peasant so described. One girl who had been fined for letting the web that was used to make the matches wrapped around a machine. She had done this because her fingers were about to be caught and she was told quote, never mind your face: there's even so, and other employees had lost a finger in just such an incident and had been given absolutely no support from the company while she recovered
to add insult to injury and something that could just go into a bad management journal as an example of what not to do this and also report that Mr Theodore Bryant of Brian and May had decided to show his respect. Do Prime Minister, William Gladstone, by putting up a statue of him at the factory and he marked a shilling from every workers pay to pay for the statue, but would go in their work. And then he gave them half a day off without pay as a holiday to celebrate the unveiling of the statue they had to pay for themselves. I just want to make grumbly noises Besson ends. Her report quote such is a bald account of one form of white slavery, as it is,
lists in London with chattel slaves. Mr Brian could not have made his huge fortune, for he could not have fed clothed and housed them for four shillings a week each and they would have had a definite money value which would have served as a protection. But who cares for the fate of these white wage slaves born in slums, driven to work, while still children undersized because under FED oppressed because helpless, flung aside as soon as worked out, who cares they die or go on the streets, provided only the Brian and may shareholders get their twenty three percent and Mr Theodore Bryant Killer statues and by parks. Oh if we had but a p, Dante to make a special circle in the inferno for those who live on this misery and suck wealth out of the starvation of helpless girls, failing a poet to hold up their conduct, the execration of prostate
enshrined in deathless verse. Let us strive to touch their consciences. I e their pockets. Let us at least avoid being partakers of their sins by abstaining from using their commodities and without call to action to boycott Brian and may we will take a brief word talk about sponsor. Change the way you think about your home with homes, hence the newest member of the home goods family. They ve got everything we're home inside and out home sense lets. You re imagine every room with fresh discoveries furniture. You bet rugs lots, table lamps floor. Lamps chandelier is yes, yes and yes, plasters wall are oversized mirrors and enough outdoor furniture and a court to make your backyard the envy of the neighborhood, the melamine dishes you ve been looking for or that six peace outdoor set with safety
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thousand infections per day. You get your answer in months at the most That's the why it was fast, not because safety was compromise but a combination of scientific technology and the unfair. Fortunate situation of having hundreds The thousands of cases per day listened a covert nineteen immunity in our community on the Iheart radial, an apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast weaken do this. To back to our story. Surprisingly Brian and may match company, which was at this point, the largest matchmaker in Britain was not happy at all by any besants report in the link. They immediately started, trying to strong arm their employees into denying that the allegations were true on July. Fourth and anonymous
I wrote a letter to any vessel. That said in part quote: they have been trying to get all the poor girls to say that it is all lies that has been printed and trying to, make a sign papers that it is all lies on July, fifth, eighteen, eighty eight about two hundred workers walked off the job soon about twelve hundred of the brain and may employees who made strike anywhere matches had gone on strike and another three hundred who in the nearby wax match. Factory joined them accounts at the time were all over the place about exactly why they had stopped their work on that particular day. According to one account, they were tired of all the fines and poor working conditions and another two women had been fired for talking to any Besson about her investigation and in a third it was one young woman who had been fired for not following a foremans orders to fill a match box in a particular way, but our friends at the factory had thought her firing was
fair, and it was this last explanation that Brian and may tried to claim when talking to the press and for decades this strike position, mostly as any besants work, but she was did you really involved in it in Victoria in England Strikes- did not have a good track record of leading to reforms for workers, so Besson thought the best course of action would be to press consumers to boycott Brian and May, which they did most of her involvement with the strike itself was three raising funds Adding the word donors included, Frederick Angles and George Bernard Shaw became a clerk for the fund, raising effort, the striking Workers themselves were really the ones who actually organised the strike in the protests that went along with it. They ultimately for the Union of Women Matchmakers, which was the largest union of women and girls in Britain they formed picket line. They arranged demonstrations and meetings with speakers at mile and waste, which was a near by open area and mile and
Waste oils also served as the meeting point to distribute donations to the people who needed them about. Fifty workers went directly to parliament to discuss their grievances directly in person with the Mps Overall, the striking workers really got a lot of support. One reason: was there Annie. Bessie was quite good at the publicity sign of it. She entitled. Original article on their working conditions, white slavery in London and closely tied the idea of these women's terrible pay and poor working conditions to the idea of chattel slavery Britain had abolished slavery more than fifty years prior. So the idea that there was slavery going on right there in the east end really horror a lot of Victoria in London, even though to be clear what was happening at the man factory was definitely not chattel slavery. That was just a comparison that she had very articulately drawn. Yeah. That's what I wanted to point that out, because there are definitely cases where people.
Continue to use slavery as like a one to one direct parallel with things that were not slavery, So this was terrible. It was not chattel slavery. The striking women also got to support of some of London's old trade unions, including the London Trades Council belt. He see. Had traditionally shunned the needs of unskilled labour. They represented skilled workers and so pretty much all of the unskilled labour in Britain. There pretty much on their own, but This case it stepped in and tried to negotiate with Brian and may on behalf of the striking workers.
Initially. The factory refuse to budge, saying only that if the women return to work all but the ringleaders could have their jobs back, but the support was definitely not universal. There is a widely quoted peace from the times quote. The pity is that the match girls have not been suffered to take their own course, but have been egg Don T strike by irresponsible advisers. No effort has been spared by those pests. Modern industrialized world to bring this quarrel to a head, I tried really hard to figure out exactly like this quote comes up again. Again stuff about the about the strike and I'm ok. What is that Context of this piece in the times is a quote that somebody said that the times printed or was like it in an editorial in this high rank. What actually, what what was it, but I did not find the use for that
Soon Social Settlement Organization, Toynbee Hall, was investigating and a boycott was rolling through the consumer market and bad press was putting an extreme amount of pressure on Brian and may so after about two weeks, the company you started negotiating with the strikers that negotiations started on July, sixteenth agreement was reached the next day Bryant in May insisting to the press that they surely would have addressed any complaints, if only they had that anyone was unhappy about anything all of the striking workers. I feel like that's like a model that has happened so many times throughout history. When companies are like, we didn't know, anybody was miserable Amir IKEA, incredibly cruel jobs Don't people love that they're fine, but nobody said anything. It was a problem they nobody said the problem that we word docking them three points for dirty feet and not paying them anything and like making them run up, announced air.
With strike anywhere. Man has no idea. They were unhappy. As a result of the negotiations. All of the fines were abolished, as well as all deductions from the workers pay for the tools they need to do their job. There were also pay adjustments and a policy was instituted in which grievances could be taken to the managing director rather than having to go through the foreman in the union had to stay to advocate for the workers. One last concession that the strikers got was the establishment of a breakfast room, and the breakfast room was enormously important for reasons that we will talk about after another reef sponsor brain. This episode is brought in by clorox at our house. We ve been Bruno hanging out inside a lot, maybe getting a little bit her crazy. Now and again. So one of the things I started to do is just go out for a walk now and again, You are neighborhood, and that means
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It's someone who understands there's an art to was able to hear more than what being said and can provide tailored small business solutions that make you feel truly heard. The name your saying. Let me for advice on everything, from laptops to the cloud and solutions powered by Intel Pro platform call an advisor today. Seven seven asked down So one of the things that we haven't really talked about in terms of the brilliant and may workers workplace hazards was risks to their health. In addition to all the things Bassett documented in her report, women working in match, Dick factories were susceptible to a condition known as fussy jaw sometimes described at the time as phosphorus poisoning, and this was because the strike anywhere matches that they were making used. White phosphorus sometimes also called yellow phosphorus and exposure
White phosphorus can cause Austrian Croesus, which is the death of bone tissue. Here, are the symptoms of foster, swelling tooth pain, swollen gums, swollen cheeks and jaws tooth decay. A of the job boons festering sores than its expose. The decaying bone, Nick chronic gangrenous tissue in the face and jaw and death up to twenty percent of the time. Bryant and may were in fact using half of all the yellow phosphorus in the entire match making industry- and this was a departure from its original business plan, which was to use red phosphorus, which does not cause us to unite Croesus to make those strike on the ballot box matches. These were more expensive.
Which made strike anywhere matches much more popular. Often, workers who found themselves displaying the early symptoms of this condition would try to hide it because they knew that the factory trying to protect its own interests would fire them if it found out that they were sick. One of the reasons that a separate space for food and eating with so important to the strike negotiations was that without one Brian and may, workers had to bring their meals with them, keep them next to their work area and then sometimes eat at their workbenches eating in the working area with the food having also been stored there in the working area, increase their phosphorus exposure dramatically we haven't talked about total surprised me to learn is that William, Bryant and Frances may founders of Bryant and may match company were quakers.
And based on literally any other time we have ever talked about quakers in the podcast ever. This might come as a surprise to people they had found in the business in eighteen. Fifty in an eighteen sixty three, the commission on the employment of children in industry investigated their business and found it to be quote a very nicely conducted place in eighteen. Sixty one though Wilberforce Bryant William Brian's, oldest son, became the general manager there. He wanted to expand the business as much as possible over the objections of Francis May, the younger Bryant forced may out in eighteen. Seventy five following the threat of a lawsuit that may was afraid, would target The reputation of the Quaker religion. Obviously may quiet departure from the company did not have the effect he was hoping for at all, because without his more timbering influence, the sons of William Bryant took the business in a very different, and much more exploitive direction, a lot of the pay
and working conditions that the striking workers were advocating to change had actually been illegal for years, following the passage of the factory acts in Britain for couple of years after the strike Bryant and may tried to restore its reputation as being a socially minded employer, as was expected of a Quaker business. It took a more fair but perhaps somewhat paternal approach to its workers and also made charitable contributions to organizations that would benefit the people who work there, who continued to be quite poor soon. The press were describing and and may as a model employer offering job to british workers and, looking after the poor Ladys who work there, they're doing things lake donating lots of feed to to the soup where, where the people who for for them from from time to time because they weren't being paid enough to buy food elsewhere, it's a little unclear.
Whether whether the Bryant sons continued to identify as quakers or not. I found contradictory evidence on that, but regardless this more philanthropic but sometimes definitely paternalistic way running their business did at last, the star reported a case of fossil jaw at the factory in eighteen. Ninety two- a sub, investigation found numerous safety issues with how phosphorus was being handled there and then, ten years after the strike Brian and may appeared in the in court following the death of one of their workers from phosphorus poisoning, and it was revealed that factory had seventeen unreported cases of phosphorus poisoning, by law had to be reported to health authorities whenever they occurred. Bryant and me, had not only failed to report these cases, but had also act,
We conceal the fact that they had even happened and six people had died, they were fine tune, five pounds: nine shillings. I laugh out of sadness because that does not sound like a lot of money, even in late nineteenth century dollars, the company, ultimately handsome merge, with other match makers, to stay afloat, because their reputation could not really recover, and this strike of eighteen eighty lead to increased awareness of the dangers of working with yellow phosphorus and put to ban its use in eighteen. Ninety one, the Salvation Army opened a competing match factory using only read phosphorus and pay double. What Brian and may did Brian, and may stop using yellow phosphorus in nineteen o one the international, Association of Labor legislation began advocating a global ban on yellow phosphorus and matchmaking in the early nineteen hundreds as well and
national agreement was signed in nineteen o eight and Britain banned the import, sale or manufacturer of white phosphorus matches in nineteen ten. The. Strike anywhere matches seem incredibly dangerous to me. Yeah and so like. It surprised me, as I was reading this, that, like that people favored to the cheapest, this of the strike anywhere matches over the safety of a man that does not just light on fire against anything wrong with the most minor friction bright, yeah yeah. And this strike also had a huge influence on organise labour in Britain. Follow the success of the match worker strike. There was a move towards unionized among other unskilled labour, all across the nation. It grew into the new unionism movement and, as we alluded to earlier, and eventually lead to the establishment of the independent,
labour party here. Prior to this, as we said earlier, like not strikes, have traditionally been very successful in getting workers changes in their working environment in the time right around this, and this, the success of this strike shifted that a little bit and that the idea of unskilled labour having a union big became a much bigger deal because, before that, most of the union's Whereabout more skilled trades, and that the people who are working and unskilled jobs a lot of times with basically no protections, weren't really seen as being worthy of of being a union in that changed. After this point, Yeah sure listener. Male Pepe, this time around is pretty pappy air
bessie was also a really interesting person and she went on to do other things completely unrelated to the strike and originally, as I started, researching this article or this podcast is going to be a lot more about her and then I realized it's a really big misperception that the strike was all her doing ray. A lad of the writing about the strike. For decades was pretty dismissive and judgments, all about the women who were striking and sort of made it like they were unruly children who were goaded into a successful strike by The heroic work of any besson- and that was not true at all- They were
to organize yeah. They really they had a whole lot of solidarity and they organized a bunch of stuff and they got things they were after thanks, so much for joining us on this Saturday, since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of the show that could be obsolete. Now, our current email address is history. Podcast at Iheartradio COM, our old health, stuff works, email address, no longer works. You can find us all over social media at missed in history, and you can subscribe to our show on Apple podcasts, Google, podcast, the I heart radio app and wherever else you listen to fog stuff, you missed in history class doctrine of Iheart Radio for more by cap for my heart radio, either by her radio habit Mancha or wherever
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Transcript generated on 2021-05-26.