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Red Army Fiction: Fight for your Write (to Inspire and Ignite)

Red Army Fiction is a collective of performers, artists and word worshippers alike, who gather once a month for nights of spoken word and storytelling in East London’s Bethnal Green. Host Mama, Alison Eley, describes Red Army Fiction simply as: Incendiary words to inspire and ignite. Anybody with a story to tell or a poem to recite can turn up, sign up and share at RAF’s home at The Gallery Cafe, London E2.

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One past speaker whose fascinating story must be shared is journalist and historian Louise Raw, author of ‘Striking a Light: the Bryant and May Match Women and their Place in History’. Raw recounted the untold true story about East End Victorian slum women and girls working in inhumane conditions at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, East London and who went on strike in 1888 after a very unfair dismissal. This proved one step too far for the feisty match girls who had suffered years of dangerous, toxic working conditions, being at risk from the dreaded ‘phossy jaw’- brought on from the white phosphorus that the matches were dipped in, which led to facial deformity, terrible illness and agonising death; of poverty wages which left workers malnourished and near starvation while the factory owner’s lived in luxury; plus constant bullying, unfair demands and unjust threats by employers.

redarmybannerThese strong, tough women loved a good time; wearing in-your-face fashions and beating up men who asked for it (they even wrote an open letter to Jack the Ripper, offering to meet him face-to-face and sort him out, as he stalked Whitechapel at the time, just a few miles from Bow).  They drank like fish and fought like lions and you could see where the match women had been due to the trails of ‘glowing’ phosphorus vomit that they left behind.

It was through their sheer courage and solidarity, against all odds, that they went on to win better conditions and the right to form the largest Women’s Union in the country.  This strike of 1,400 women and girls led directly to the Great Dock Strike the following year in 1889, which then led on to historic events in which the Labour Party was created in 1900. The match women’s victory was also believed to have been an inspiration to the Suffragette movement and all those campaigning for equality. Raw organised the first ever match women’s festival in London this summer to celebrate these phenomenal women and the 125th anniversary of their incredible victory.

Other speakers and performers at Red Army Fiction include VICE writer John Doran, whose contributions document observations on: music, alcohol, life, fatherhood, transport, anti-depressant withdrawal , nervous breakdowns, LSD, sanity damage and other stuff and not necessarily in that order; Entertainer, presenter and author, Chris Titmas a ‘true life storyteller’ who is ‘one of the Uk’s most vaguely recognisable television personalities’ on shopping channel VSS, lay some ghosts to rest by doing a reading from his autobiography ‘Innocent’ which promised to be ‘honest in places and sometimes almost funny’ and professional puppeteer, face painter and ‘promoter of the silly message’ Diane Goldie contributes to RAF regularly too.

So if you fancy getting up and doing a turn yourself, check out www.redarmyfiction.com  to find out about future dates and events.
Words: Laura Gouldbourne                            Pics: Tom Buchanan