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The Matchgirls' Strike, 1888

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Introduction

The Matchgirls' Strike, 1888 GCSE History Coursework- 2006 -Source and Essay Based Questions- Putney Park School Form: 11M By: Una Pilipovic 1) Study Source A. What can you learn from Source A about the Grievances of the Matchgirls in 1888? From source A you can learn a lot about the attitudes towards the girls and the conditions that they worked in. However, it has to be noted that it was written by Annie Besant, the leader of the Matchgirls strike. The source mentions young girls at the age of 16 earning "4 shillings", whilst her sister who is older her earned more. This tells us that there was unequal pay but the source is unclear because it doesn't state how much older the sister was. Furthermore by putting this in context, most jobs were poorly paid and this was no exception. But these poor wages were not definite as there was a system of fines which "deducted from this splendid wage". For example, if they did not have clean feet "1p" was deducted and there were other useless rules which had to be followed because it determined their working conditions. Owners of such matchstick companies were profit driven making life for the workers much worse. The Matchgirls would be hit by the foreman, meaning the girls would be subjected to violence. This in real terms was unnecessary, as it would have a negative effect on the girls. As a result, this would affect the profit to owners. Finally, the most shocking and appalling grievance would be the squalid working and eating conditions. The girls would eat and work in the same room, which could poison and kill them because "the fumes of the phosphorus" would eat away at their jaw causing 'phossy jaw' and as a result they would be vulnerable to cancer. This would obviously be an extreme threat to health but the owners wouldn't care, 'Laissez-faire' attitude. ...read more.

Middle

The poisonous fumes would slowly wear away their jaw, whilst they are eating their food in the same area where they work. This was another way of exploitation. However, this shouldn't be allowed in the first place because it's going against human rights. Therefore this makes Annie Bessant more determined to stop the exploitative attitude. This source is also relevant or valid because it shows "striking Matchgirls" e.g. of bravery. This would be risky because the employer can identify the girl(s) that work in their factory and get them fired because employers don't want girls that are labelled "strikers" to work for them. In addition it would be really hard for the girls to find another job; as a result there would be more poverty and starvation. This source also symbolises the girls as the victims of the Industrial Revolution. They are protesting for equality and fairness. Therefore it is possible to call them Marxists. This small group of girls lead to more girls of their age and situation protesting against their working conditions. As a result, there was a huge protest that reached national attention. In conclusion, it would be oversimplistic if source C was valid or even believable when it's compared to source D. although both maybe biased to support ones opinion, it's stark to say that source C is extremely biased and false. This false notation would be advocated deliberately to stop the growing support from the middle class people for the working class girls (unionism). 4. Study Source B, E, F. The Times (source B) expected the strike to collapse. Why did the Matchgirls' strike to succeed? Use Sources B, E, F and your own knowledge to explain your answer. The Matchgirls strike did succeed in the end however there were many obstacles and criticisms against the Matchgirls such as the times in Source B. The Times put forward a completely different point of view by saying that they had a dim view of wages and they wanted the Matchgirls strike to collapse. ...read more.

Conclusion

Annie advocated ideas such as Trade Unions, national education, birth control and women's right to vote (being a suffragette herself). Source A shows and example of propaganda by Annie. You can tell that she was outraged at the working conditions; "they eat their food in the rooms in which they work" and how the "phosphorus poison works on them as they chew their food". It can be suggested that the words and the style of writing makes the public (mainly middle class because they are literate and numerate) feel more sympathetic towards the Matchgirls. In addition this would lead to the unionism or solidarity between the middle class and the working class. As a result of the Matchgirls strike a New Trade Unionism was formed, the GNCTU, the Grand National Consolidation Trades Union. This new trade unionism was formed by a middle class philanthropist, Ben Tillet in 1834. It was a movement towards protecting workers rights and it supports the unskilled working class whilst on strike in any trade e.g. the Matchgirls workers. Their main aim was to set up a network of labour exchanges. This differentiates from the first national union, the NAPL (National Association for the Protection of Labour) because of the membership. To be able to be part of the NAPL you had to be a skilled worker e.g. a carpenter, butcher, weavers etc. and had a decent enough wage to pay the monthly subscription. This subscription would cover the workers wage when they would be on strike. �5 would go the strike fund from the workers' income and �30 went to a prolonged strike. This association was formed by John Doherty in 1831 that was a reformist and felt that in order for strike funds to succeed they had to become much more organised and larger on a "national level". However the NAPL was not the only one to challenge the capitalistic system or attitude. A historic icon or philanthropist in history would be Robert Owen, a cotton mill owner, who tackled this problem too. ...read more.

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