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The Luddites were a social movement of English textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested — often by destroying textile machines — 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; but since then, the term Luddite has been used to describe anyone opposed to technological progress and technological change. For the modern movement of opposition to technology, see neo-luddism.

The Luddite movement, which began in 1811, was named after a mythical leader, 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 1813 that resulted in many death penalties and transportations (removal to a penal colony).

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

The rapid industrialisation

The rapid industrialisation of the English economy cost many craft workers their jobs. The movement started first with lace and hosiery workers near Nottingham and spread to other areas of the textile industry owing to early industrialisation. Many weavers also found themselves suddenly unemployed since they could no longer compete with machines which only required relatively limited (and unskilled) labour to produce more cloth than a single weaver. Many such unemployed workers, weavers and others, turned their animosity towards the machines that had taken their jobs and began destroying factories and machinery. These attackers became known as Luddites, supposedly followers of Ned Ludd, a folklore figure. The first attacks of the Luddite movement began in 1811. The Luddites rapidly gained popularity, and the British government took drastic measures using the militia or army to protect industry. Those rioters who were caught were tried and hanged, or transported for life.

Unrest continued in other sectors as they industrialised, such as agricultural labourers in the 1830s, when large parts of southern Britain were affected by the Captain Swing disturbances. Threshing machines were a particular target, and rick burning was a popular activity. The riots led however, to the first formation of trade unions, and further pressure for reform.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Luddite" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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