Matchwomen's Festival • Saturday 1st July 2017 14:00 to 23:30(BST) • The London Irish Centre, 50‐52 Camden Square, London NW1 9XB
The Legacy of the Matchwomen
In the summer of 1888, 1400 women walked out on strike over management bullying and appalling, hazardous working conditions. The women and girls working at Bryant & May's match factory in London's East End shocked the world, and ultimately changed it.
Working-class women at this time were supposed to be seen and not heard, especially if, like many matchwomen, they were of Irish heritage. Instead, the matchwomen paraded the streets of the East End, singing songs and telling the truth about their starvation wages and mistreatment by the firm.
They marched to Parliament, and their strength and solidarity won them better pay, safer conditions, and the right to form the largest union of women and girls in Britain.
They were an inspiration to other groups of workers up and down the country and throughout the world. The modern movement for workers' rights had begun, and the matchwomen were at the forefront of it.
The first Matchwomen's Festival marked the 125th anniversary of the Matchwomen's Strike.
It was a brilliant day with around 700 visitors, including the late Bob Crow, and was one of Tony Benn's last public engagements.
Since then, the importance of the matchwomen to British history has been acknowledged in Parliament with a debate devoted to them, and Labour MPs recommending that the book about them, Striking a Light, should be on the school syllabus. Minister Ed Vaizey replied that Michael Gove would read it: so far, no word on whether Mr Gove enjoyed it, but we wait with baited breath.
MPs also wanted to see a properly-worded blue plaque acknowledging the women's courage at the old factory site, which Vaizey supported. Watch this space, or indeed, that space if you live nearby.
Last year (2016) once again we had a great Matchwomen's Festival, packed with inspiring, funny and talented speakers and acts.
We began with an incredibly moving short film on what learning about the matchwomen had meant to local school children. Mulberry School girls had visited the factory; Bangladeshi pupils performed a beautiful, graceful dance they had devised, inspired by the women' lives, and pupils read the names of striking women aloud in the eerie quiet of a now–empty work–room.
Shami Chakrabarti brought us back to the present with a bang with her hilarious, no–holds–barred thoughts on the state of the country now, what we can all do, and staying strong and positive in the post–Brexit world.
Nina Malik is an advocate and trainer with the Freedom Programme, an anti–domestic violence course which can be done in groups or online.
Nina explained it best: as a woman experiencing domestic violence and forced marriage, being told every day she was nothing, she had lost her confidence and sense of agency. On the first day of the course, she said all the women attending were silent. A few sessions in, people began to chat cautiously and to make friends. By the end, there was no stopping them!
The course helps to undo the damage done to self–respect by domestic abuse, and gives women psychological insights to help spot the types of personality traits that can signal an abuser in future, as well as providing them with a wonderful support network. We believe it is life–changing: and also life–saving.
We enjoyed a full day of speakers, comedians, poets and bands until late; and from the wonderful feedback I've had, I think and hope we all went away feeling a lot more cheerful and positive, if perhaps less sober!
Thank you to all our guests, contributors and sponsors.
Read more about it...
Louise Raw's book, Striking A Light, reveals the incredible true story of the matchwomen and the summer of 1888 for the first time.
What she found, in years of research, has shone a clear, blazing light on an extraordinary uprising. The Matchwomen's Festival ensures that this light will never be dimmed.
- Sheila Rowbotham
‘A great story with a terrific cast of characters’
- The Times
‘Raw's primary motive is that the true contribution of the matchwomen be given proper respect in trade union history.’