The Industrial Revolution and urbanisation may have brought great benefits to the industrialists but for many sections of the poor living standards plummeted. Factory working conditions were appaling, 18 hour working day without breaks in cramped dirty conditions, dangerous machinery, pitiful wages, draconian fines forced upon workers for complaints and child labour, children usually doing the most dangerous jobs in the factory and suffering crippling injuries. For those that survived accidents long term effects on the lungs or terminal conditions caused by chemicals used lead to an early death. Amidst this was a drive by factory owners as competition grew to lower wages and worsen working conditions.
This sparked the world’s first Labour Movement.
In 1811 the first threatening letter from General Ned Ludd and the Army of Redressers appeared. Whether Ned Ludd himself existed or was a made up figurehead is still unknown. However the Army of Redressers who came to be known as Luddites quickly grew across the Midlands and began attacking factories. Workers broke in and smashed (Origin of the saying, throw a spanner in the works).
The government responded by making Ludditism a capital offence and sending 12,000 troops into Luddite strongholds to no avail. In late 1911 the movement widened its grip expanding across much of the industrial countryside. The pattern emerging at Rawfolds Mill where the Luddites attacked killing the owner. 100 Luddite were captured by the army and three executed.
From 1812-1817 pitched battles between the army and the Luddites became regular, often thousands of Luddites attacking mills or factory owners houses. Rioting occured in cities and Luddites hurled stones at factory owners and their families. Usually Luddites tried to smash the machines but if that failed would turn to burning the whole building down. The army defending the mills usually outnumbered would resort to musketry and the ringleaders of any captured Luddites were hung.
The Luddite Rebellion lasted six years but faded after 1817 leaving many martyrs however resurfaced in 1830 in the Swing Riots.
Nowadays Luddite is a term meaning someone who dislikes or can’t comprehend technology. A rather denigrating way to remember the granddaddies of all labour movements.