200th Anniversary of the Luddite Uprisings

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Luddite Uprisings: Technology Politics Then and Now

November 2011 – January 2013 are the 200th anniversary of the Luddite uprisings: a great opportunity to celebrate their struggle and to redress the wrongs done to them and their name. Today science and technology raises many more critical social, environmental and ethical issues, but from GM food and eugenics to plans for engineering the planets climate, from surveillance to nuclear power, these issues are rarely addressed properly, partly because anyone who raises criticism is denigrated as a ‘luddite’. History has been written by the victors and the Luddites are portrayed as opposed to all technology and progress: it is ironic that while the ideology of technology as progress has hardened into a rigid dogma, which must condemn all critics as ‘anti-science’, in fact the Luddites opposed only technology ‘hurtful to commonality’, (i.e. the common good). They destroyed some machines whilst leaving others, and earnt their living using a complex piece of technology, the hand loom. In their spirit, we make no apology for calling for real democratic control over science and technology.

In this project we aim to:

·     Remember and honour the Luddite struggle and begin their political rehabilitation

·     Strengthen the contemporary technology politics movement, by discussing the lessons that the Luddite uprising can teach us.


UK Organizing meeting: Wednesday June 8th, 7pm, Feminist Library, 5a Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7XW, Nearest tube Lambeth North,


Organised by: Luddites200 Organising Forum luddites200@yahoo.co.uk www.luddites200.org.uk

In 1811-12 artisan cloth workers in the Midlands and North of England rose up against factory owners who were imposing new machines and putting them out of work. Since the 1950s the Luddites have been painted as fools opposed to all technology and progress, but in fact the Luddites were very selective in their attacks, breaking only machines they thought were ‘hurtful to Commonality’.

What can the Luddites teach us about the ongoing use of technology to replace workers’ jobs, as well as issues like GM food, nuclear power, reproductive technology and surveillance? Can we escape the myth that technology always brings progress? On the anniversary of the first action against a GM crop site in Britain, come and discuss the issues with speakers from the Luddites200 Organising Forum, Stop GM, a trade union activist, and the Stop Nuclear Network.

One Reply to “200th Anniversary of the Luddite Uprisings”

  1. Ned Ludd may have been a feeble minded mallet brandisher but I reckon he knew that the stocking frame a big noisy mechanical knitting machine was going to have dire consequences on life s basics food shelter safety and security employment health and well-being. It s interesting to note that Queen Elizabeth I actually refused to patent these machines as she was worried about the impact on England s hand-knitting industries. Today England doesn t have much of any manufacturing industry especially knitting. The clothing they wear like ours is mostly made in the slums of India Pakistan and China by exploited workers who probably never heard of the Luddites. But hey the world s always been about haves and have-nots and that s what the market and industrialisation is all about. Why should we be made to feel bad about watching 3D blu-rays on giant plasma TVs or having smartphones? We shouldn t but we are progressing at a startling rate and now everyone s being told what they need is online that they should download the forms register via the webpage Google it or follow the conversation on Twitter.If poor semi-skilled Ned Ludd was here he might ask that we pause to think not just about the loss of jobs but also about accessibility and affordability. Consider this Internet World Stats of the 6 845 609 960 people in the world 1 966 514 816 use the internet. That s only 28.7 per cent of people. Regardless of exactly how accurate or up to date the data is it highlights an incredible digital divide. Roughly 70 per cent of the world doesn t have internet access. They also don t have a lot of food water or sanitation either. It s estimated that more than nine million children under the age of five die each year from preventable diseases 2.5 billion don t have access to adequate sanitation and almost 900 million can t get clean water. And if that doesn t make you feel a tad privileged approximately 600 million children live in extreme poverty.Being able to access social media or new technologies isn t exactly the greatest danger or division the world faces. And I m not saying we shouldn t have all this stuff because others don t but as the Luddites brought to the fore with a claw hammer and a lot of angry working class Nottinghamshire lads nobody likes to feel unnecessary excluded or replaced by a stocking frame. Technology is now one of those markers that divides the world. As wealthy western societies become more reliant on information technologies and social media as ways to communicate and function so too does the gap grow.It sure is a perverse place when Facebook Depression is being written about as a new medical condition that kids apparently get this when they don t have enough online friends and believe they are inadequate or missing out. What a sad indictment of modern society that a lack of online friends is being considered a mental illness. Imagine then what it must be like not actually having internet access or be able to afford a mobile telephone? Think about those children to whom Facebook Twitter podcasting or iView are words from another universe. Put yourself in Ned s hob-nailed boots or those of the person who once worked at the supermarket checkout but are now replaces by a small scanning device. I ve heard the counter argument put by those who prefer to wield a memory stick rather than a nightstick people have a choice about technology it s part of today s world it creates amazing new ways to communicate and interact and entertain.I wish everyone had a choice about either participating in the modern world or watching it walk on by. Tell that to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who don t have access to uninterrupted electricity fresh water or adequate sewerage let alone high speed broadband. There are plenty of children who don t have a fancy mobile phone to take to school or a laptop to do their homework on or a DVD player in the car so they are spared the injustice of having to look out the window and use their imagination. There are many Australians who struggle to pay for food rent and clothing. They surely dream of participating.Luddites got bad reviews. The critics didn t get them. These guys understood that social change can marginalise and exclude people economically and socially. They should make a comeback although maybe not with the truncheons and cudgels. We need Luddites to remind us that as we become more reliant and demanding of new technologies and social media so too does the divide widen between those who can participate and those who cannot.

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