Terrific line-up revealed for Saturday’s Matchwomen’s Festival

Tim Lezard Europe, UK, Culture, Heritage

Matchmakers 2015 ii127 years ago this summer, 1,400 mostly young women and girls shook the East End – and ultimately the world.

Bryant & May matchmakers were a household name in 1888, and immensely wealthy.

But the women and girls who created those profits earned such low wages many were malnourished; the employer’s negligence putting them at risk of the deadly industrial disease ‘phossy jaw’.

In early July of 1888, they had had enough. When one young girl was unjustly sacked, 1,400 work-mates downed tools and streamed out of the factory gates as one, immediately forming a picket line.

Police were rushed into the area; newspapers expressed horror at the women’s outrageous failure to ‘know their place’. But the strikers held firm. Marching to Parliament, they impressed MPs with the justice of their cause.

Pressure mounted on Bryant & May, who were finally forced to accede.

The workers returned triumphant, forming the largest union of women and girls in the country, and ultimately inspiring hundreds of thousands of other to organise against their exploitation. These were the mothers of the entire modern labour movement, and Labour Party.

Labour historian and union activist Louise Raw uncovered the truth about the matchwomen, and traced descendants, over several years.

These women were nobody’s poor little matchgirls; well before 1888 they scandalised their ‘betters’ with their fearlessness, independence, and defiantly colourful dress-sense; they paid into ‘feather clubs’ to buy and share communal hats with huge feathers; and could wield the hatpins to good effect if necessary.

This year, award-winning cartoonist Martin Rowson of the Morning Star and Guardian has drawn an exclusive work for the festival encapsulating the spirited loved by their peers, but not always appreciated by the establishment.

The first ever Matchwomen’s Festival was held in 2013. Since then, Dr Raw’s book Striking a Light, and the matchwomen’s contribution to history, has been acknowledged in Parliament.

This Saturday, you can celebrate them, and the women and men who fight for freedom and socialist values today.  The event takes place at the Caravanserai E16 1EA between 2 and 11pm.

Writer and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez  on her  new book, Do It Like a Woman ; poets Shagufta Iqbal, Siana Bangura, Tim Wells and Janine Butcher and many more: music from Thee Faction, Maddy Carty and Steve White and the Protest Family.

Stalls, and food from Masterchef’s Alec Tomasso. **Children’s Tickets Free**

Tickets are available here. The festival is dependent on donations so please donate through this link too: no amount too small!


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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