In this essay, I intend to discuss how and why the Luddite movement began and to link it with the Industrial Revolution that took place during the Victorian Era, a time of great progress.
Before the industrial revolution, England was known for making hand made woven sweaters and other garments. The people who made these garments lived in small villages and worked at home using their handcrafted looms. These civilians considered work to be play because in the business they were in. They worked when they wanted, took long breaks and had lots of sleep. It seemed like the perfect life until the Industrial Revolution.
When Queen Victoria acceded to the throne, the Industrial Revolution started to boom. Factories were opening up all over England and there was nothing like making a quick pound when slave labor was easy to come by. People with lots of money started opening up factories with mechanized looms. Because the process of making the garments was now cheaper, people didn't want the quality of the village garments but the cheap garments from the factories. This caused the village people to lose money and have to work for pennies at a factory to earn a living, not to mention that they now had fixed work hours, had to ask to go to the bathroom and worst of all they were now working in a Hierarchy. The freedom that these villagers once had was now gone. Play became work and a small revolution was about to begin.
The mechanized looms that were in the factories were not exactly the best built in the world. In fact "they broke down more often than they worked". Some villagers decided that it was time to pay them back for destroying their playful community and started to break the frames of these mechanized looms. When Mr. Boss came to the factory, everyone blamed this guy called Ned Ludd ("who even today no one knows if he is fictional or not"). It was at this point that these workers came to be known as Luddites who claimed that this destruction was an act of Luddism. This was the first time that sabotage, which according to the Webster dictionary means "malicious destruction of employers, property or national plant by employees on strike or during war-time", was widely used.
The sabotaging of these factories would not stop the power-hungry Victorian middle class from continuing to build more factories to try to make more money. This small group of Luddite revolutionists, however, formed what we now call unions to demand better wages, better quality of products, less work, more freedom and better working conditions. If their demands were not met, an "Act of God" would somehow destroy all the equipment in the factory (ie: sabotage was used).
This worked for a few years until one day a factory owner decided to hire a small army to defend his factory from this so-called "God". When the Luddite revolutionists could not get in the factory, they burned the owner's house, which was a bad idea since the government got involved and hung all the offenders. From this time on, right to the late 1800's a Luddite was considered `anyone` who was against the use of technology and who wished to maintain his or her simple way of life.
The Industrial Revolution as well as the popularity of Queen Victoria gained momentum over the years and new groups of Luddites formed. With each group the definition of a Luddite changed a little. By the end of the Victorian Era to be ludic meant to not believe in work but believe in play. The concept of "the degeneration of a worker" was now used.
The Ludic now believed that people no longer played or even worked but now had "jobs". As explained before, when they lived in villages, every villager did the complete task of making a product. After they started to work for companies, they made the same products but cheaper. In the late 1800's the conveyor belt was invented and people no longer produced an item from start to finish but were assigned a specific, repetitive job. Not only did this mean that workers didn't learn anything else, but later on if they wanted another job, they would have no experience. This kept the wages down and the middle class happier and richer people. A new type of protest against Industrialization was about to begin.
This new form of revolting against the factories was created in the form of a slow-down. According to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in an essay she wrote in 1916 called "Sabotage: The Conscious Withdrawal Of The Workers' Industrial Efficiency", the first open announcement of a slowdown sabotage went something like this:
"BOSS: "Well, what can you do?"
WORKER: "I can do 'most anything"
BOSS: "Well, can you handle a pick and a shovel?"
WORKER: "Oh sure. How much do you pay on this job?"
BOSS: "A dollar a day."
WORKER: Is that all? Well, -- all right. I need the job pretty bad.
I guess I will take it."
-- The guy started to work and soon the boss came along and said
BOSS: "Can't you work any faster than that?"
WORKER: "Sure I can."
BOSS: "Well, why don't you?"
WORKER: "This is my dollar a day clip."
BOSS: "Well, let's see what the $1.25 a day clip looks like.""
As we see, without any violent actions this Luddite showed his lack of appreciation of the system. He managed to double his pay within the first week of work and people followed his actions. This form of sabotage, the slow-down, is still being done today.
In the early Victorian Era, Luddism was based on a fictional or non-fictional person named Ned Ludd who people blamed for all the sabotaging such as the burning of factories. By the end of the Victorian Era, a Luddite represented anti-work and pro-play and if you were working, you deserved to get paid fairly for what you accomplished.
In conclusion, no one seems to have a standard definition of what a Luddite really is, but one thing is sure. This movement involved the poor against the rich, the government versus the people. I cannot judge who was correct and who was wrong. Looking back they all had their reasons for doing what they did. Maybe someday things will be clearer.