I was pleased to read that one of the poems specially commissioned for the Olympics commemorates the famous three week long Match Girls Strike of 1889. ‘Spark Catchers’ by Lemn Sassy was inspired by the campaign against the horrendous working conditions in the Bryant and May match factory in Bow where girls as young as 13 worked 14-hour days and suffered horrendous health problems from working with white phosphorus.
Many of civil rights we enjoy today have been won on the back of hard struggles waged in the past. The Match Girls Strike is one such event. It inspired a wave of trade union organising that had long term consequences for women and the low paid. With the Trade Union Congress having just appointed Frances O’Grady as General Secretary, the first woman to occupy that post in the TUC’s 144 year old history, it seems especially fitting to remember the struggles of other women activists from days gone by. Thanks to Lemn Sassy for reminding us of an inspiring chapter from our history.