Sociology Index

LUDDITES

As technology began to transform the early 19th century workplace, workers or Luddites as they were called in Britain initiated random attacks in which they destroyed the machinery of the developing industrial order and destroyed poorly manufactured and shoddy goods.

Luddites were a member of the bands of English artisans who (1811-16) rioted against mechanization and destroyed machinery. Luddism is intense dislike of or opposition to increased industrialization or the introduction of new technology, esp. in a place of work.

The industrial system that the Luddites were rebelling against has led to climate change and huge losses of biodiversity, and its new technologies, such as information technology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology raise equally profound issues. Yet anyone who raises concern about the price and side-effects of new technologies is harshly condemned as a 'luddite', someone supposedly irrationally opposed to technology and progress.

The Luddites were not 'luddites’ in that sense: the idea that they were opposed to all technology is a history written by the victors. In fact the Luddites opposed only technology ‘hurtful to Commonality’, ie. to the common good, rather than the narrow interests of the few. November 2011 – January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the Luddite uprisings, in which artisan cloth workers smashed machines which were destroying their trades, undercutting wages and forcing them into unemployment and destitution. - The Luddites at 200 - luddites200.org.uk.

The workers involved in these actions claimed to be led by Ned Ludd. It was said that Ned Ludd (like Robin Hood) lived in Sherwood Forest and historians assume the name was probably a pseudonym for an individual or group of leaders.

Luddites, upset by wage reductions and the use of unapprenticed workmen, began to break into factories at night to destroy the new machines that the employers were using. In a three-week period over two hundred stocking frames were destroyed.

Luddism gradually spread to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. In Yorkshire, croppers, a small and highly skilled group of cloth finishers, turned their anger on the new shearing frame that they feared would put them out of work. In February and March, 1812, factories were attacked by Luddites in Huddersfield, Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds. The government ordered 12,000 troops into the areas where the Luddites were active. 

On of the most serious Luddite attacks took place at Rawfolds Mill near Brighouse in Yorkshire. William Cartwright, the owner of Rawfolds Mill, had been using cloth-finishing machinery since 1811. Local croppers began losing their jobs and after a meeting at Saint Crispin public house, they decided to try and destroy the cloth-finishing machinery at Rawfolds Mill. Cartwright was suspecting trouble and arranged for the mill to be protected by armed guards. 

Led by George Mellor, a young cropper from Huddersfield, the attack on Rawfolds Mill took place on 11th April, 1812. The Luddites failed in gain entry and by the time they left, two of the croppers had been mortally wounded. Seven days later the Luddites killed William Horsfall, another large mill-owner in the area.

Neo-luddism is perceived as a modern movement of categorical opposition to technology, both in particular and in general.

Opponents of neo-luddites consist largely of those who believe that technology is either value-free or beneficial. Their concern is to question whether it is always worth saving those things that neo-luddites seek to protect.