“Collective Bargaining By Riot”

Morgan Meis complicates what it means to be a Luddite:

The influential and recently deceased historian, Eric Hobsbawm, wrote a famous article in 1952 called, “The Machine Breakers.” In the article Hobsbawm explained that, while it may have been futile in one sense, the Luddite rebellion was an important episode in the early history of organized labor and attempts to improve the lot of the working class. Hobsbawm coined the phrase “collective bargaining by riot,” as a concise and memorable summing up of how he thinks we ought to think about the Luddites. Hobsbawm pointed out that machine wrecking actually did lead, in many instances, to wage increases and other concessions from employers and the government. In none of these cases, Hobsbawm argues, “was there any question of hostility to machines as such. Wrecking was simply a technique of trade unionism in the period before, and during the early phases of, the industrial revolution.”

The Luddites, then, were pragmatists. They were proto-trade unionists. They were fighting for their rights and their livelihoods in the only way that was available at the time. Their cause was not futile; Luddites were not machine-obsessed lunatics trying to halt the march of history.