ü – luddites

Are you a V for Vendetta fan? Then this lesson is for you.

Guy Fawkes Day remembers a time in the early 17th century when it was a real possibility that the House of Parliament would be blown up by secret, mysterious societies.  Two centuries later, England was again in rebellion, a reaction to the emerging Industrial Revolution.  The conversion of the 17th century indentured servant contracts to Pip in Great Expectations, the emerging role of the apprentice was a fundamental grievance of the guilds, reformed into the first trades unions only a few decades later.  The apex of secret workers societies resisting child labor, debasing skilled labor, and

Read closely the following text.  The links will provide more information on specific events you may be interested in, at least to answer the group questions linked to at the bottom of this page.

“Mysteries” are a common theme in the apprenticeships.  They’re mentioned in the Contracts lesson, even before, in the Artisans Societies lesson, craftmen are given high privilege, for mysterious reasons.

The beheadings of Colonel Edward Marcus Despard and Arthur Thistlewood are convenient bookends for this period English historian E. P. Thomson describes as “collective bargaining by riot.”

When the first machines, stocking frames, gig mills, and the like, began mass producing clothing in midlands England, often operated by women and children at cut-rate wages, a “semi-conscious quasi-insurrectionary movement” began to resist massive unemployment resulting from this extreme disruption of traditional cloth workers.

Much of what the Luddites did, and who they were, was deliberately kept secret to protect themselves from being jailed for illegal assemblies. But in January 1812, an underpaid/out-of-work group of textile workers of a of workers stormed George Ball’s textile workshop.  3 months later, Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfolds was attacked.

The following quote succinctly describes how children workers, previous protected under Indentured Apprentice Contracts, and powerful Artisans Societies, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, were suddenly ripped into the maelstrom of unrestricted industrial capitalism:

Thus we must see the years 1811-13 as a watershed whose streams run in one direction back to Tudor times, in another forward to the factory legislation of the next hundred years.  The Luddites were some of the last Guildsmen, and at the same time some of the first to launch the agitations which lead on to the 10 Hour Movement.  In both directions lay an alternative political economy and morality to that of laissez faire.  During the critical decades of the Industrial Revolution, working people suffered total exposure to one of the most humanly degrading dogmas in history—that of irresponsible and unlicensed competition—and generations of outworkers died under this exposure.  It was Marx who saw, in the passage of the 10 Hour Bill (1847), evidence that for “the first time . . . in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class”.  The men who attacked Cartwright’s mill at Rawfolds were announcing this alternative political economy albeit in a confused midnight encounter.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1970), p. 552.

This midnight storm reduced artisans to paupers, relentlessly pushed the beating-down of wages and craft standards – the Medieval Guilds from Tudor times that for centuries gave apprentices an opportunity for future wealth, suddenly collapsed, leaving skilled workers homeless and penniless, focusing their wrath on machine breaking.

As a group, answer the Share Out! questions on the Luddite document.