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Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike Committee

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  • The story is full of hope for the future, illustrating as it does the immense power that lies in mere publicity. It was the publication of the simple story of the grievances of the match girls in an obscure little halfpenny weekly paper called which did the work.

    In July 1888 the girls employed at a match factory in the East End of London came out on strike. These courageous girls had neither funds, organizations, nor leaders, and they appealed to Mrs. Besant to advise and lead them. It was a wise and most excellent inspiration. Money was quickly subscribed for their support and, within a fortnight, the employers considered it prudent to concede their demands. The number affected was quite small, but the matchgirls' strike had an influence upon the minds of the workers which entitles it to be regarded as one of the most important events in the history of labour organisation in any country.

  • DumbWise, Unite the Union and Red Ladder in association with Wilton’s Music Hall, Tower Hamlets council and Arts Council England present a new production of the 60’s west end hit The Matchgirls. Commissioned by Unite to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the 1888 strike, this important and inspirational story was told by a mix of professional and community performers with a live band and played to sold out audiences a stones throw away from the legendary Bow factory.

    The pity is that the matchgirls have not been suffered to take their own course but have been egged on to strike by irresponsible advisers. No effort has been spared by those pests of the modern industrialized world to bring this quarrel to a head.

  • Besant, Stead and Champion used their newspapers to call for a boycott of Bryant & May matches. 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 was also successful at helped to inspire the formation of unions all over the country.

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