Eleanor Marx and the matchgirls of London


Fearful of returning home to a violent father without having sold enough matches for the day, The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen remains on the street resigned to warming herself by lighting matches.

With each match, she sees a vision; a warm stove, a table laden with hot food, a beautiful Christmas tree decorated with lights leading up to the sky, so high that one becomes a shooting star.

According to her grandmother, each shooting star is a person who had recently passed on and is now heading to heaven. Her next strike brings a vision of her grandmother, the only person in the world who ever loved The Little Match Girl who takes her away in her warm embrace to heaven. The Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888 was an industrial action by the women and teenage girls working at the Bryant & May match factory in Bow, London. In the late nineteenth century, matches were made using sticks of poplar or Canadian pine wood, twice the length of the finished product.

The working conditions in the match factory had caused great discontent; with fourteen-hour workdays, poor pay, unjust fines, having no clean area to eat, and the severe health complications of working with allotropes of white phosphorus, which caused phosphorus necrosis also known as phosphorimus chronicus or phossy jaw.

This discontent grew into open outrage with the dismissal of one of the workers in 1888. In the 1880s, Bryant & May employed nearly 5,000 people, most of them were female and Irish, or of Irish descent. In 1908 the House of Commons passed an Act prohibiting the use of white phosphorus in matches after the 31st of December 1910.
Among the supporters of the Matchgirls Strike was Eleanor Marx, one of the most overlooked figures in history and usually overshadowed by her father, Karl Marx. Not only did she collaborate with her father, but she also led an extraordinary life as a labour organiser, trade unionist, translator, actor, writer and feminist.

Yvonne Kapp’s biography on Eleanor Marx brilliantly succeeds in capturing Eleanor’s spirit, from a lively child to becoming the new woman, earning her living as a free intellectual, and helping to lead England’s unskilled workers at the height of the new Trade Union movement. She was always more than, yet at the same time inescapably, Karl Marx’s daughter.

Eleanor Marx by Yvonne Kapp is an unrivalled biography of the Marx household in Victorian London, of the Marx circle of friends and associates, and of Friedrich Engels, the family’s extraordinary mentor.

Source: Iraq Solidarity News