East End Match Girls and Apple/FoxCon

I was struck by the similarity of the plight and treatment of the BRYANT & MAY MATCHWOMEN in the East End of London, in the 1880’s, and the hi-tech assembly workers at the FoxConn factories in China.

I heard an interview with Louise Raw, Historian and Author, on this mornings Robert Elms, BBC Radio London show, talking about her new book, Striking a Light. The comparison was really only around the plight of the workers than anything else. Thinking about it afterwards the scale of the hi-tech workers is staggering, Wired estimates 1-million workers working on the iPhone alone, which beggars belief.

The clear difference between the two is not just the number of deaths, the illness, the treatment etc. but the nature of the society that allowed both to exist. In the 1880’s the Bryant and May Matchwomen had the ability to incite change and the ability to start a union like organization. In China, it’s not at all clear this is even remotely possible.

If you can catch todays Robert Elms show on the BBC iPlayer, it’s well worth a listen. It should be posted by 1pm Central time, and will be available only for the next 7-days. Unless I get time to rip that section of the show and post to soundcloud.