Tower Hamlets Council agreed a motion last week proposed by the Labour Group to recognise the struggle of the Matchwomen and Matchgirls who went on strike for workers’ rights and conditions, and to welcome ideas on how to recognise this important moment in Tower Hamlets history.

On 5th July 1888, 1400 girls and women walked out of the Bryant and May Match Factory, located in Fairfield Road in Bow, in strike at the appalling conditions they were experiencing at work. This included long hours, fines, low pay and the risk of phossy jaw, a type of bone cancer, which came from the workers’ exposure to white phosphorus at the factory. The strike was raised in Parliament, and it was on 17th July 1888 that the factory owners met all the demands put forward by the Strike Committee.

The motion called for Tower Hamlets Council to work with the Matchgirls Memorial Trust to remember this significant milestone, and to note the work Council has done in its review of race and equality in the public realm and its commitment to continue championing diversity and standing up to discrimination.

Councillor Sabina Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts and Sports, who proposed the motion, said:

“The Matchwomen and Matchgirls strike was a momentous time for the Labour Movement, and was a message to all employers across the UK of the power of their employees and basic human rights – and it all started in Tower Hamlets.

“This is why I was proud to propose this motion at Full Council, to ensure the struggle of the Matchwomen and Matchgirls is remembered and which can feed into the continued work the Council is doing to champion diversity and stand up to discrimination.”

Councillor Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, who seconded the motion, said:

“Tower Hamlets is a diverse place with a rich history of activism, and nothing represents that more than the strike action of the Matchgirls and Matchwomen in Bow.

“I am proud of the work the Council continue to do with the Matchgirls Memorial Trust in order to recognise the achievements of these brave women strikers.”

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said:

“The Matchgirls Strike of 1888 was an important moment in history, for both organised labour and also in the struggle by women for equality and against exploitation. The story is worth revisiting as a reminder of progress but also to help us to understand continuing struggles more widely against oppression.   

“One of our new council housing schemes, close to the former factory, will be named after Sarah Chapman, one of the leaders of the Matchgirls Strike, and this will help ensure her name and the brave actions of her fellow Matchwomen and Matchgirls live on in our borough.”

 

Motion approved by Tower Hamlets Council

Memorial to the Matchwomen and Matchgirls

Proposed by: Cllr Sabina Akhtar

Seconded by: Cllr Rachel Blake

 

This Council believes:

  1. We have a proud modern history in Tower Hamlets of championing diversity and standing up to discrimination, but there is more we can do
  2. That historically under-represented groups should be remembered in the public realm
  3. That the women and girls who took part in the Match Factory Strike of 1888 were pioneers of the Labour Movement (see notes)

This Council notes:

  1. The Council has pro-actively undertaking a review of race and equality in the public realm.
  2. The purpose of the review was to share thoughts about under-representation in public spaces – not only in terms of race, but also on issues across the equalities landscape including but not limited to civil rights, workers’, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and more.
  3. The review asked the community identify and nominate other names, particularly of under-represented groups, who have done something memorable and who we should celebrate.

This Council resolves:

  1. To welcome ideas for remembering the Matchwomen and Matchgirls who fought for their employment rights
  2. To work with the Matchgirls Memorial Trust to remember the struggle of the Matchwomen and Matchgirls
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