by Carlos Pedraza
The Luddites emerged in the early 1800s, claiming to follow craftsman and folk hero Ned Ludd in expressing the rage of craftsmen and other workers who felt threatened by industrialization. Today, Luddite is used as an insult for technophobes, but the real Luddites didn’t hate technology. They wanted to protect their livelihoods and get better working conditions.
Automation has always been a threat to workers. Unlike humans, machines don’t demand higher wages and can work 24/7. The Luddites would go to factories and smash machines with anything they could find. In 2013, delivery drivers smashed and stabbed robots in a modern display of Luddism, not technophobia.
While new technologies can lessen work time, they usually are used by businesses and governments for control. Think of the algorithms that Amazon uses to manage their workers’ work time and breaks. I used to work as a service worker stocking shelves. I would get up at six in the morning and work till noon, with only two 15 minute breaks. If I knew that a machine was tracking me to keep me working and not take an extra five minutes, then I would be the first to stab it.
In working jobs where I had no autonomy, I would be forced to smile at all times and repeat the same mindless boring tasks over and over again. The greatest disappointment was when I saw my paycheck, feeling robbed by how little it was. A higher wage or longer breaks would have made me feel less angry, but a machine doesn’t care about breaks or paying rent.
Even if automation didn’t make me lose my job, then it would still cut my hours and thus my pay. I’m a Luddite not because I hate technology or want everything to be the same. I like progress and embrace change, but if automation is going to happen then it must be for the workers to decide when and how to do it, and to distribute the benefits among the people.
Until then, if I see a machine control my time or push me out of a job, I will keep shouting, “down with all kings but King Ludd.”