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LUDDITES AND THE SPINNING WHEEL November 10, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Modern History.
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Rupert Murdoch gave his second Boyer Lecture yesterday on ABC National. He envisages “A Golden Age of Freedom”. As the most successful – and ruthless? – newspaper and media businessman of our time, he might have something worthwhile to say.

I was interested in observation that the “business model should be out in front of the technology. Interestingly, or not, he referred only to “The Drudge Report” when referring to new media. Murdoch’s business models have for the most part very successful, perhaps privileging “entertainment” over news. There was once an clear demarcation between news and entertainment, now they have merged into a business model of infotainment.

Our household has gone “luddite”. We have effectively turned off the television screen, and now live in the shadow of ignorance of public policy deliberation, current events, and underlying currents of social and political development. In his lecture, Rupert Murdoch mentioned the luddites and their connection with penal tranportation to Australia.

Wikipedia has further details:

The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested—often by destroying mechanized looms—against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood.

This English historical movement has to be seen in its context of the harsh economic climate due to the Napoleonic Wars, and the degrading working conditions in the new textile factories; but since then, the term Luddite has been used derisively to describe anyone opposed to technological progress and technological change.

The Luddite movement, which began in 1811, took its name from the fictive Ned Ludd. For a short time the movement was so strong that it clashed in battles with the British Army. Measures taken by the government included a mass trial at York in 1812 that resulted in many executions and penal transportation.

The principal objection of the Luddites was against the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour, resulting in the loss of jobs for many skilled textile workers.

The deskilling of labor, and the lowering of the cost of labor, was true of the old technology, and is probably as true of the new technology, except those Bill Gates described as the “best” or the talent, whose purpose it is for “human resources” to secure and maintain. Murdoch is concerned, as indeed he should be, at the impact that the new technologies will have on his business, rather than on society.

Reading more about the Luddites it is clear that used violence as their mode of political action:

The movement began in Nottingham in 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England in 1811 and 1812. Many wool and cotton mills were destroyed until the British government harshly suppressed the movement. The Luddites met at night on the moors surrounding the industrial towns, practising drills and manoeuvres and often enjoyed local support. The main areas of the disturbances were Nottinghamshire in November 1811, followed by the West Riding of Yorkshire in early 1812 and Lancashire from March 1813. Battles between Luddites and the military occurred at Burton’s Mill in Middleton, and at Westhoughton Mill, both in Lancashire. It was rumoured at the time that agents provocateurs employed by the magistrates were involved in provoking the attacks.[citation needed] Magistrates and food merchants were also objects of death threats and attacks by the anonymous King Ludd and his supporters. Some industrialists even had secret chambers constructed in their buildings, which may have been used as a hiding place.[2]

“Machine breaking” (industrial sabotage) was subsequently made a capital crime by the Frame Breaking Act (Lord Byron, one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites, famously spoke out against this legislation), and 17 men were executed after an 1813 trial in York. Many others were transported as prisoners to Australia. At one time, there were more British troops fighting the Luddites than Napoleon I on the Iberian Peninsula.[citation needed] Three Luddites ambushed and murdered a mill-owner (William Horsfall from Ottiwells Mill in Marsden) at Crosland Moor, Huddersfield; the Luddites responsible were hanged in York, and shortly thereafter ‘Luddism’ waned.

Rupert Murdoch does not make any connection to the Indian Independence Movement, and specifically the role of the spinning wheel, now symbolically the centrepiece of the Indian National Flag. The charkha was the tool of choice now simply to establish independence from colonially imposed textile monopoly, but to re-establish village self sufficiency. Gandhi made a point of visiting the factory towns of Northern England and talking with the textile workers after the 1931 Round Table Conference he attended in London. The purpose of the conference was to negotiate the possible terms of Indian Independence.

The relationship between violence and globalization is both obvious and obscure. Michael Nagler observes in The Search for the Nonviolent Future:

The Charkha showed that we can return to the kind of life humanity lived before the craze of the machine took over. Not only cloth was involved but an ideology – not too different from what India had known centuries before – in which the rich would voluntarily “live simply so that others could live”, and the socioeconomic system would be of a human scale.

Actions as we know,or might guess, often have multiple repercussions. It turns out in India, the imperial economic policy displaced textile tradesmen who were mostly Muslim.

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