|The Leader of the Luddites, engraving of 1812|
Thursday, September 1, 2016
History Documentary: The History of the Luddite Movement, The Luddites, Documentary -- The Historian Channel
Luddites were 19th-century English textile workers (or self-employed weavers who feared the end of their trade) who protested against newly developed labour-economising technologies, primarily between 1811 and 1816. The stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms introduced during the Industrial Revolution threatened to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. The Luddite movement culminated in a region-wide rebellion in Northwestern England that required a massive deployment of military force to suppress.
The term has since developed a secondary meaning: a "Luddite" is one opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.
Although the origin of the name Luddite (/ˈlʌd.aɪt/) is uncertain, a popular belief is that the movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in 1779, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers. The name evolved into the imaginary General Ludd or King Ludd, a figure who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest.
The movement can be seen as part of a rising tide of English working-class discontent in the late 18th and early 19th century. An agricultural variant of Luddism, centering on the breaking of threshing machines, occurred during the widespread Swing Riots of 1830 in southern and eastern England. [b] The Luddites' goal was to gain a better bargaining position with their employers. They were not afraid of technology per se, but were "labour strategists".
Spasmodic rises in food prices provoked Keelmen in the port of Tyne to riot in 1710 and tin miners to plunder granaries at Falmouth in 1727. There was a rebellion in Northumberland and Durham in 1740, and manhandling of Quaker corn dealers in 1756. More peaceably, skilled artisans in the cloth, building, shipbuilding, printing and cutlery trades organised friendly societies to insure themselves against unemployment, sickness, and in some cases against intrusion of "foreign" labour into their trades, as was common among guilds.
The Luddite movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, which saw a rise in difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. The movement began in Arnold, Nottingham on 11 March 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England over the following two years. Handloom weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery.
Textile workers destroyed industrial equipment during the late 18th century, prompting acts such as the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1788.
The Luddites met at night on the moors surrounding industrial towns, where they would practise drills and manoeuvres. Their main areas of operation were Nottinghamshire in November 1811, followed by the West Riding of Yorkshire in early 1812 and Lancashire by March 1813. Luddites battled the British Army at Burton's Mill in Middleton and at Westhoughton Mill, both in Lancashire. Rumours abounded at the time that local magistrates employed agents provocateurs to instigate the attacks. Using the pseudonym King Ludd, the Luddites and their supporters anonymously sent death threats to—and even attacked—magistrates and food merchants.
Activists smashed Heathcote's lacemaking machine in Loughborough in 1816. He and other industrialists had secret chambers constructed in their buildings that could be used as hiding places during an attack.
In 1817, an unemployed Nottingham stockinger and probable ex-Luddite named Jeremiah Brandreth led the Pentrich Rising, which was a general uprising unrelated to machinery, but which could be viewed as the last major Luddite act.
Later interpretation of machine breaking (1812), showing two men superimposed on an 1844 engraving from the Penny magazine which shows a post 1820s Jacquard loom.[d] Machine-breaking was criminalised by the Parliament of the United Kingdom as early as 1721, the penalty being penal transportation, but as a result of continued opposition to mechanisation the Frame Breaking Act 1812 made the death penalty available: see "criminal damage in English law".
The British Army clashed with the Luddites on several occasions. At one time, more British soldiers were fighting the Luddites than were fighting Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula.Three Luddites, led by George Mellor, ambushed and assassinated a mill owner named William Horsfall from Ottiwells Mill in Marsden, West Yorkshire at Crosland Moor in Huddersfield. Horsfall had remarked that he would "Ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood." Mellor fired the fatal shot to Horsfall's groin, and all three men were arrested.
The British government sought to suppress the Luddite movement with a mass trial at York in January 1813, following the attack on Cartwrights mill at Rawfolds near Cleckheaton. The government charged over sixty men, including Mellor and his companions, with various crimes in connection with Luddite activities. While some of those charged were actual Luddites, many had no connection to the movement. These trials were not legitimate judicial reckonings of each defendant's guilt, but show trials intended to deter other Luddites from continuing their activities. By meting out harsh consequences, including, in many cases, execution and penal transportation, the trials quickly ended the movement.
Parliament subsequently made "machine breaking" (i.e. industrial sabotage) a capital crime with the Frame Breaking Act and the Malicious Damage Act. Lord Byron opposed this legislation, becoming one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites after the treatment of the defendants at the York trials.
Several decades later, in 1867, Karl Marx referred to the Luddites in Capital, Volume I, noting that it would be some time before workers were able to distinguish between the machines and "the form of society which utilises these instruments" and their ideas "The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the work