9 - Industrial Revolution, The Luddite uprisings and Swing riots

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  • America's newly moneyed class win independence from England (same forces at work as in English Civil War) and this awakens a new English radical movement
  • English radical movement brutally repressed after French Revolution, Habeas Corpus suspended for a year in 1794 and again in 1798 for three years.
  • Repression masks industrialists dismantling remaining artisans and workers rights allowing their factories to destroy cottage industry. Any meeting of labourers is seen a danger to the status quo.
  • Luddites (in the north) and Swing riots (in the south) are attempts by labourers to reassert rights. These movements (and others) were not anti technology, they were pro workers rights.
  • 12,000 troops were sent to put down the Luddite uprisings

songs, poems, quotes and stories

  • Ned Ludd song
  • General Ludd's Triumph (try Chumbawamba's version)
  • General Ludd by Seize The Day
  • Tom Paine's bones by Graham Moore
  • The Mask Of Anarchy by Shelley
  • Song for the Luddites by Lord Byron
  • Jerusalem by Blake
  • Eight Shillings A Week
  • Captain Swing
  • Owslebury Lads

washing line

  • 1790 - 1830 Industrial Revolution
  • 1811 – Luddites
  • 1830 – Swing Riots

Sample Text

I was always under the impression that during the industrial revolution people migrated from the country into the towns and cities looking for opportunity, as if perhaps the countryside was boring them... Sadly as we have seen in the first half it is much more likely that they were forced into the towns and cities faced with starvation if they stayed put after the decimation of the rural economy by enclosure, taxation and the effects of free market economics.

In the late 1700s revolution was in the air, as first America won her independence from England and then France began the first of her many revolutions. Tom Paine's book the 'Rights Of Man' from Norfolk was highly influential in both these revolutions and sowed the seeds of a growing interest in Republicanism back in England. At the same time Mary Wollstonecraft wrote 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women' bringing her ideas about equality between all into the national and international consciousness.

The ruling classes, terrified of revolutionary fever spreading to England, brutally clamped down on any perceived attempt at labourers getting together to organise themselves including suspending habeas corpus for eight years which meant that they could throw anyone in prison indefinitely without giving a reason or a trial. The capitalist merchant and now factory owning elite exploited all the ruling class's fear of revolution as an excuse to prevent any attempt by labourers to protect their communities and livelihoods through coming together in public to form unions or 'combine' as it was called in those days.

The Luddite movement in the northern towns is perhaps the best known example of people's resistance from this period although the swing riots or last labourer revolt in the south was also a reaction to the same forces. There is a disgusting notion promoted by the elites at the time which has sadly stuck in our consciousness to this day, that the Luddite and swing rioters were a backward small minded people who were anti-technology. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me speak plainly - the Luddites and Swing rioters were not anti-technology, they were pro workers rights. The people who made up these groups had already explored every democratic means available to them as they fought to protect themselves and their families from starvation and only after exhausting democratic means resorted to secret highly organised and targeted breaking of the machines belonging to the very worst, more ruthless and exploitative employers.

There is also an idea that this was a small outbreak but if I was to tell you that 12,000 troops were sent out to suppress the Luddite uprisings I am sure you will reconsider that too. I like to sing 'Jerusalem' here and explain that William Blake was a republican who had to hide his messages behind Christian imagery to avoid being jailed or hung. The word Jerusalem means a place of oneness or equality... and when he is writes 'bring me my bow'... etc he is writing about everyone standing up and fighting for a more equal society.