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has been a long time and these girls seem to have faded from our memories. One thing is certain though, the 1888 match-making girls initiated one of the biggest industrial strikes this world will ever see. They were girls with an age range starting from as young as 15 and each of them worked 14 hours a day perceiving the deadly poisonous phosphorus gas.

If you are familiar with science you would know that the tip of a match must be made of white phosphorus to enable a strike anywhere effect. The vapor released by this compound is highly toxic and deadly to the extent that a big percentage of these girls started showing bizarre symptoms of a disease called the Phossy jaw.

The major significance of this disease is that the jaw bone begins to rot, releasing a terrible odor and a disfigured face along with unbearable pain.

Hospitals in the region recorded a high admission of sick people from the match industry, there was no sure treatment other than to remove the jaw before the effect spread to the brain and cause more damage. Even with this method, doctors predicted that the long-term effect of these vapors was enough to shorten the lives of these girls.

There was a need to establish a safe working environment, a method to get rid of this life-wrecking vapor but this was in the industrial era when rich men still consider the poor as material and the government were still far away from getting a hold of them.

The matchstick makers at risk of ‘phossy jaw’ who fought for women’s labour rights and won. (Source: Public Domain)

The majority of these girls were living in poverty with some of them having dependent family, they could not leave the job for another because the labor market seemed to be so competitive. They would rather stay than join millions of unemployed. Along with the low wage these girls were often fined for coming late, wasting raw materials, and other petty offenses.

Annie Besant, brought change to the match labor girls in one of her published articles titled White Slavery in London, where she exposed the horrific working condition of these girls.

Annie Besant’s article went viral and seemed to have gotten the attention of the government, media, and human rights activists The employers who were scared of running out of business decided to take a step. They handed agreement papers to each of these girls requesting their signatures. They wanted the girls to sign that they have been working in the best condition and their wages have never been cut nor delayed.

They said NO, they refused to sign the agreement, one of the workers who was said to have spoken with Annie was fired and over 1000 workers flooded the streets of London fighting for their rights. All their demands were met but the white phosphorus poison continued to ravage the lives of these workers for two decades.

The match girls strike proved the kind of power the labor market can draw, several other organizations soon followed suit.

The British government banned the use of white phosphorus in match production and with the punitive tax placed on phosphorus, the phossy jaw disease eventually came to an end.

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