Born in slums, driven to work while still children, undersized because under-fed, oppressed because helpless, flung aside as soon as worked out, who cares if they die or go on to the streets provided only that shareholders get their 23 per cent and Mr. Theodore Bryant can erect statutes and buy parks?
In 1888, London matchgirls at the Bryant and May’s factory went on strike in protest at the awful working conditions. The girls worked long hours for low pay and were liable to suffer from industrial illnesses such as Phossy Jaw. The strikers asked Annie Besant to help them organise and articulate their views. Using her skills and contacts in the Socialist movement, she was able to gain much public sympathy for the striking workers. After a week of demonstrations, strikes, and leading girls to parliament, the company gave in to the demands of the workers; this led to improvements in pay and conditions. The public sympathy and success of the strike was an important development in the unskilled trades union movement.
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