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MATCHWOMEN’S strike campaigners blasted Sir Keir Starmer today after he celebrated the anniversary of a victory by one of Victorian London’s worst employers.
The Labour leader sparked the backlash by posting an image on Twitter of women workers at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow 150 years ago.
Sir Keir said the image showing workers marching to Parliament against a proposed tax on matches and, “through collective action, they won.”
But Dr Louise Raw, a leading expert of the matchwomen’s strike of 1888, said that it was the bosses who opposed the tax and that they ordered their workers to demonstrate against it outside Parliament.
“The workers would have had no choice,” she said. “This is nothing whatsoever to do with the match strike of 1888. It didn’t ‘galvanise’ any workers at all. It was an employers’ victory.”
In 1888, hundreds of women and girls walked out over horrific conditions at the factory in Bow, east London, where the use of toxic substances caused workers to develop a form of necrosis called phossy jaw.
Dr Raw, who has done 20 years of research on the strike, said that managers had known about the disease from the beginning but continued to use white phosphorus, which caused the condition, because it was cheaper than alternatives.
“These were one of the first modern fat-cat capitalist firms and it is shameful but sadly typical that Starmer would support them,” Dr Raw told the Morning Star.
She added that she was “horrified” to see Sir Keir supporting an employers’ victory.
“I have dedicated my adult life to getting the matchwomen’s real achievements better known … because I know what an important role model they are to girls, women and the left. We are so cut off from our labour history and that affects us badly.
“If the matchwomen owned a pub, they’d be slinging Starmer out of it!”
Labour was approached for comment.
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