1,400 matchgirls striked in 1888...

Matchgirls participating in a strike against Bryant & May in London, 1888. 
 The strike was caused by the poor working conditions in the match factory, 
including fourteen-hour work days and the severe health complications of 
working with white phosphorus. Led by Socialist activist Annie Besant
with the support of Herbert Burrows, the strike began in June 1888. 
Three weeks later, the factory owners agreed to rehire 
the strikers and end the fine system

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Matchgirls at Bryant and May's factory 
shortly before their famous strike

Annie Besant (1847-1933) met the women and set up a committee,
which led the women into a strike for better pay and conditions, an action
that won public support. Besant led demonstrations by 'match-girls', who
were cheered in the streets, and prominent churchmen wrote in their
support. In just over a week they forced the firm to improve pay
and conditions. Besant then helped them to set up
a proper union and a social centre

 The strike committee.
Matchgirls, Besant and Burrows


White sulphur in the manufacture of the burning tips poisoned 
the workers, their hair falling out and a terrible condition known as  
'phossy jaw' horribly disfiguring faces. In 1891, the Salvation Army opened up 
its own match factory in the Bow district of London, using less toxic red phosphorus 
and paying better wages. Part of the reason behind this match factory was the desire 
to improve the conditions of home workers, including children, who dipped white 
phosphorus-based matches at home. Several children died from eating these 
matches. The Bryant and May factory received bad publicity from these 
events, and in 1901 they announced that their factory no 
longer used white phosphorus

The London matchgirls strike, 1888