Learn about the stories behind 10 extraordinary inventions. In this video, you'll learn about the 1888 match factory strike.
Read the full transcript »
Male Speaker: In 1888, workers at the Bryant & May match factory went on strike, protesting their horrible working conditions. Not only were the workers subjected to 14 hour work days for low pay, they also had endure a system of fines that denied many of their four weeks wage. Fines could be levied for talking, dropping matches or going to the bathroom without permission. Arriving for work late resulted in a half day's pay deduction. When Annie Besant, a leading feminist and newspaper publisher heard of the conditions under which women worked for the Bryant & May Company, she wrote an article in her paper, The Link. Titled White slavery in London, the article painted a bleak picture of life in 19th century match factories. One girl was fined for trying to save her fingers from being cut and was sharply told to take care of the machine, never mind your fingers. Bryant & May's response was to cajole the workers into signing affidavits, claiming they were content with the working conditions. When several of the women wouldn't sign, Bryant & May fired them. This action prompted 14,000 other match girls to strike. The strike lasted three weeks, during which time the match girls formed a union and named Besant as their leader. At the end of the strike, all the strikers were rehired and the system of the fines was abolished. This was the first successful strike by non-organized labors in Great Britain and led the formation of unions all over the country.