As a step towards bringing about some such union of those ready to work for man, Mr. Stead and I projected the Link, a halfpenny weekly, the spirit of which was described in its motto, taken from Victor Hugo: 'The people are silence. I will be the advocate of this silence. I will speak for the dumb. I will speak of the small to the great and of the feeble to the strong. I will speak for all the despairing silent ones. I will interpret this stammering; I will interpret the grumblings, the murmurs, the tumults of crowds, the complaints ill-pronounced, and all these cries of beasts that, through ignorance and through suffering, man is forced to utter . . . I will be the Word of the People. I will be the bleeding mouth whence the gag is snatched out. I will say everything.' It announced its object to be the 'building up' of a ' New Church, dedicated to the service of man,' and 'what we want to do is to establish in every village and in every street some man or woman who will sacrifice time and labour as systematically and as cheerfully in the temporal service of man as others do in what they believe to be the service of God.' Week after week we issued our little paper, and it became a real light in the darkness. There the petty injustices inflicted on the poor found voice; there the starvation wages paid to women found exposure; there sweating was brought to public notice. A finisher of boots paid 2s. 6d. per dozen pairs and 'find your own polish and thread'; women working for 10½ hours per day, making shirts - ' fancy best' - at from 10d. to 3s. per dozen, finding their own cotton and needles, paying for gas, towel, and tea (compulsory), earning from 4s. to 10s. per week for the most part; a mantle finisher 2s. 2d. a week, out of which 6d. for materials; ' respectable hard-working woman' tried for attempted suicide, 'driven to rid herself of life from want.' Another part of our work was defending people from unjust landlords, exposing workhouse scandals, enforcing the Employers Liability Act, Charles Bradlaugh's Truck Act, forming 'Vigilance Circles' whose members kept watch in their own district over cases of cruelty to children, extortion, insanitary workshops, sweating, &c., reporting each case to me. Into this work came Herbert Burrows, who had joined hands with me over the Trafalgar Square defence, and who wrote some noble articles in the Link. A man loving the people with passionate devotion, hating oppression and injustice with equal passion, working himself with remorseless energy, breaking his heart over wrongs he could not remedy. His whole character once came out in a sentence when he was lying delirious and thought himself dying. 'Tell the people how I have loved them always.'
In our crusade for the poor we worked for the dockers. 'To-morrow morning, in London alone 20,000 to 25,000 adult men,' wrote Sidney Webb, 'will fight like savages for permission to labour in the docks for 4d. an hour, and one-third of them will fight in vain, and be turned workless away. We worked for children's dinners. 'If we insist on these children being educated, is it not necessary that they shall be fed? If not, we waste on them knowledge they cannot assimilate, and torture many of them to death. Poor waifs of humanity, we drive them into the school and bid them learn; and the pitiful, wistful eyes question us why we inflict this strange new suffering, and bring into their dim lives this new pang. 'Why not leave us alone?' ask the pathetically patient little faces. Why not, indeed, since for these child martyrs of the slums, Society has only formulas, not food.'' We cried out against 'cheap goods,'' that meant ''sweated and therefore stolen goods.' ''The ethics of buying should surely be simply enough. We want a particular thing, and we do not desire to obtain it either by begging or by robbery; but if in becoming possessed of it, we neither beg it nor steal, we must give for it something equivalent in exchange; so much of our neighbour's labour has been put into the thing we desire; if we will not yield him fair equivalent for that labour, yet take his article, we defraud him, and if we are not willing to give that fair equivalent we have no right to become the owners of his product.'
This branch of our work led to a big fight - a fight most happy in its results. At a meeting of the Fabian Society, Miss Clementina Black gave a capital lecture on Female Labour, and urged the formation of a Consumers' League, pledged only to buy from shops certificated 'clean' from unfair wage. H. H. Champion, in the discussion that followed, drew attention to the wages paid by Bryant & May (Limited), while paying an enormous dividend to their shareholders, so that the value of the original £5 shares was quoted at £18 7s. 6d. Herbert Burrows and I interviewed some of the girls, got lists of wages, of fines, &c. 'A typical case is that of a girl of sixteen, a piece-worker she earns 4s. a week, and lives with a sister, employed by the same firm, who 'earns good money, as much as 8s. or 9s. a week.' Out of the earnings 2s. a week is paid for the rent of one room. The child lives only on bread and butter and tea, alike for breakfast and dinner, but related with dancing eyes that once a month she went to a meal where 'you get coffee and bread and butter, and jam and marmalade, and lots of it.' '
We published the facts under the title of 'White Slavery in London,' and called for a boycott of Bryant & May's matches. 'It is time some one came and helped us,' said two pale-faced girls to me; and I asked: 'Who will help? Plenty of people wish well to any good cause; but very few care to exert themselves to help it, and still fewer will risk anything in its support. 'Some one ought to do it, but why should I?' is the ever re-echoed phrase of weak-kneed amiability. 'Some one ought to do it, so why not I? is the cry of some earnest servant of man, eagerly forward springing to face some perilous duty. Between those two sentences lie whole centuries of moral evolution.'
I was promptly threatened with an action for libel, but nothing came of it; it was easier to strike at the girls, and a few days later Fleet Street was enlivened by the irruption of a crowd of match-girls, demanding Annie Besant. I couldn't speechify to match-girls in Fleet Street, so asked that a deputation should come and explain what they wanted. Up came three women and told their story: they had been asked to sign a paper certifying that they were well treated and contented, and that my statements were untrue; they refused. 'You had spoke up for us,' explained one, 'and we weren't going back on you.' A girl, pitched on as their leader, was threatened with dismissal; she stood firm; next day she was discharged for some trifle, and they all threw down their work, some 1,400 of them, and then a crowd of them started off to me to ask what to do next. If we ever worked in our lives, Herbert Burrows and I worked for the next fortnight. And a pretty hubbub we created; we asked for money, and it came pouring in; we registered the girls to receive strike pay, wrote articles, roused the clubs, held public meetings, got Mr. Bradlaugh to ask questions in Parliament, stirred up constituencies in which shareholders were members, till the whole country rang with the struggle. Mr. Frederick Charrington lent us a hall for registration, Mr. Sidney Webb and others moved the National Liberal Club to action; we led a procession of the girls to the House of Commons, and interviewed, with a deputation of them, Members of Parliament who cross-questioned them. The girls behaved splendidly, stuck together, kept brave and bright all through. Mr. Hobart of the Social Democratic Federation, Messrs. Shaw, Bland, and Oliver, and Headlam of the Fabian Society, Miss Clementina Black, and many another helped in the heavy work. The London Trades Council finally consented to act as arbitrators and a satisfactory settlement was arrived at; the girls went in to work, fines and deductions were abolished, better wages paid ; the Matchmakers' Union was established, still the strongest woman's Trades Union in England, and for years I acted as secretary, till, under press of other duties, I resigned and my work was given by the girls to Mrs. Thornton Smith; Herbert Burrows became, and still is, the treasurer. For a time there was friction between the Company and the Union, but it gradually disappeared under the influence of common sense on both sides, and we have found the manager ready to consider any just grievance and to endeavour to remove it, while the Company have been liberal supporters of the Working Women's Club at Bow, founded by H. P. Blavatsky.
The worst suffering of all was among the box-makers, thrown out of work by the strike, and they were hard to reach. Twopence-farthing per gross of boxes, and buy your own string and paste, is not wealth, but when the work went more rapid starvation came. Oh, those trudges through the lanes and alleys round Bethnal Green Junction late at night, when our day's work was over; children lying about on shavings, rags, anything; famine looking out of baby faces, out of women's eyes, out of the tremulous hands of men. Heart grew sick and eyes dim, and ever louder sounded the question, ''Where is the cure for sorrow, what the way of rescue for the world?'
In August I asked for a 'match-girls' drawing room.' 'It will want a piano, tables for papers, for games, for light literature; so that it may offer a bright, homelike refuge to these girls, who now have no real homes, no playground save the streets. It is not proposed to build an 'institution' with stern and rigid discipline and enforcement of prim behaviour, but to open a home, filled with the genial atmosphere of cordial comradeship, and self-respecting freedom - the atmosphere so familiar to all who have grown up in the blessed shelter of a happy home, so strange, alas to too many of our East London girls.' In the same month of August, two years later, H. P. Blavatsky opened such a home.
Then came a cry for help from South London, from tin-box makers, illegally fined, and in many cases grievously mutilated by the non-fencing of machinery; then aid to shop assistants, also illegally fined; legal defences by the score still continued; a vigorous agitation for a free meal for children, and for fair wages to be paid by all public bodies; work for the dockers and exposure of their wrongs; a visit to the Cradley Heath chain-makers, speeches to them, writing for them; a contest for the School Board for the Tower Hamlets division, and triumphant return at the head of the poll. Such were some of the ways in which the autumn days were spent, to say nothing of scores of lectures - Secularist, Labour, Socialist and scores of articles written for the winning of daily bread. When the School Board work was added I felt that I had as much work as one woman's strength could do.
Thus was ushered in 1889, the to me never-to-be-forgotten year in which I found my way ''Home,'' and had the priceless good fortune of meeting, and of becoming the pupil of, H. P. Blavatsky...