You are in England. There has been a long period of relative economic prosperity with wages slowly increasing. Then, two things happen. There is a huge economic recession caused not by domestic, but international factors. Also, the pace of change with regards to new technology increases rapidly.
Workers accept that automisation and cost cutting is necessary. However, in return for the reduction in hours available and in order to protect their pensions, they seek a living wage and a tax on the industries that are automising. These requests are refused.
In desperation, the workers start sabotaging the technology brought in to replace them. The law is promptly changed to make this sabotage an offence punishable by death. In cases of mitigating circumstances, offenders are deported instead.
Dystopian sci-fi or reality? The answer is the latter. It describes the struggle of the Luddites: the English textile artisans who fought the automisation brought in by the introduction of the weaving machine. It happened over 200 years ago.
Since then, the Luddites have been given something of a bad name. Instead of being seen as the highly organised, articulate promoters of improved employment conditions that they were, they have become a by-word for those who are afraid of change, and best remembered as the workers who chose to smash the means of production rather than move with the times.
Lessons to be learned
The parallels with our current society are startling, both in terms of the background to the Luddite struggle, and the erosion of employment rights we are currently witnessing – particularly in developed western economies where workers are increasingly ‘employed’ on zero-hour contracts deprived of any meaningful employment protection.
Luckily for the modern worker, it’s doubtful that they will be deported to Australia or executed – or at least in the West – if they seek to disrupt the means of production.
As for the Luddites, it is time to recognise them as campaigners in a struggle for the rights of workers during a time of change, as opposed to those who are scared of ‘progress’ – something that is useful for the modern political and business elites to remember when complaining about those who feel left behind by the current pace of automisation.