The Match Girls of Hull, Quebec: Working Conditions, Unions and Strikes (Part 2)

The Match Girls in the 1924 Strike
The Match Girls in the 1924 Strike | Source
The 1924 Lockout. Group photo including Donalda Charon
The 1924 Lockout. Group photo including Donalda Charon
Donalda Charron
Donalda Charron | Source

Union Formation and the Aftermath

Union Formation and the 1919 Strike

The response to the conditions was the formation of a union the Trade Union Association Female Catholic, in 1918. The match girls (les allumettières), were the first women to lead a major strike in the area when, in 1919, the Eddy Co. decided to institute another shift. When the women objected to the danger (they would have to walk home alone in the dark after 8 pm) as well as the extra burden it would place on them (Many still had to take care of house chores for their husbands or family), the company locked the doors. In this instance, the company renegotiated the length of the shifts.

The union representatives and those of the company worked together. The Church also made its contribution. In the end, the employees did agree to work the double shift for a limited time – 4 months. In turn, the company would recognize the union, increase their salary by 50% and grant the employees four religious holidays annually.

The 1924 Strike

In 1924, the women were faced with a 50% wage cut. The company, under new management – Eddy had died, claimed the 1919 agreement did not apply to them. They wanted to remove the right of female supervisors (les contremaîtresses) to take part in the hiring process and remove the union. The allumettières struck again. Led by their President, Donalda Charron (1886-1967), the women – many of them no older than 20, united in a solid front against both the company and the Catholic Church. In spite of the lack of support from the male-dominated unions of the period and the Church, the women pursued their goal for two month. Superintendent Arthur Wood taunts the picketers relentlessly. He even encouraged his driver to run over the strikers on the picket line.

Yet, still they picketed and, according to local historian, Roger Blanchette, and newspaper reports, held several fundraisers and even 9 public meetings. They laid out their case to the public and the public believed them. Many of the local merchants in Hull and several wholesale companies in Ottawa boycotted the Eddy Company. They supported the workers and found the company not negotiating in good faith but doing everything it could to win on its own terms. Hull became so exasperated with the company they even threatened to revoke the right of the company to operate exclusively on some municipal roadways. As for the strikers, they even received donations of food and money from several communities including Gatineau and Lowertown.

In the end, the union won a partial victory. Their leader, thanks to the collaboration between Father Carrière, the parish priest of St- Rédempteur, Donalda Charon, was not allowed back to work at the company. Furthermore, the company took away the right of women supervisors to have any say in hiring and firing. More importantly, while hours and wages were retained to the levels prestrike, working conditions did not improve. Moreover, under the misguidance of the Good Father, many members later left the local Catholic union.

Death of a Company and Its Workers

The Eddy Match Factory sold the company in 1928 to another match factory. Bryant and May, an English concern famous for the strike of Match girls in 1888, moved the business to Pembroke. However, in 1931, a group of individuals in Hull began to operate out of an old industrial building on Tracy Street. This was Canada Match Limited (L’Allumière du Canada Limitée). In 1933, in this Canada Match Factory, the working conditions were responsible for the loss of five young women. Their deaths, and the sacrifices of all women who worked the match factories of Quebec, were not recognized in any meaningful fashion until 2007. In that year, the City of Hull honoured the Match Girls with their own street. This is the Boulevard des Allumettières. It links two communities in Quebec - Hull and Aylmer.

Sources

Bourgon, Michele, "The Allumettières, Sparks in Our Collective Memory," Sisyphus, March 17, 2007 http://sisyphe.org/spip.php?article2636.

Buzzetti, Hélène. “Un Lieu, un Nom - Le Boulevard des Allumettières, un Hommage aux Ouvrières de Hull” http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/actualites-en-societe/327787/un-lieu-un-nom-le-boulevard-des-allumettieres-un-hommage-aux-ouvrieres-de-hull

“Give Me a Match Please” http://www.histoireforestiereoutaouais.ca/en/c18/

“Hull and les Allumettes” http://www.reseaupatrimoine.ca/cyberexpositions/les-tresors-du-patrimoine/hull-et-les-allumettes/les-allumettieres/.

McCallum Conrad “The Allumettières in Sites of Collective Remembering” http://activehistory.ca/2015/02/the-allumettieres-in-sites-of-collective-remembering/.

McKinnon, Peter “Les Allumettières” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLBitJzn6Ck

Martin, Michael. Working Class Culture and the Development Of Hull, Quebec, 1800-1929. Archive CD Books Canada Inc. 2006. http://web.ncf.ca/fn871/Media/Docs/Book1/Book1_WorkingClassCulture.pdf.

Ouimet, Raymond, "The Allumettières" in yesterday (2), 2010, p. 47.

Théorêt, Hugues. “54 - Les Allumettières de la E.B. Eddy Mises en Lock-Out” http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/dossiers/100-evenements-historiques/201301/23/01-4614071-54-les-allumettieres-de-la-eb-eddy-mises-en-lock-out.php.

“Donalda Charron et la Compagnie D’allumettes E. B. Eddy.” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitLo.do;jsessionid=C7B24019F4EE79BDD15AC8217FC86AA3?method=preview&lang=FR&id=25989.

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