It’s happened before. None of us were alive to remember it. Handloom weavers burned mills, textile workers smashed looms, and farmhands broke threshing machines, all to protest the deplorable state of labor that had arisen during the Industrialized era.
They were known as Luddites, allegedly named after the young Ned Ludd who broke two stocking frames in a fit of passion in 1779 in Regency England. From there onwards, Ludd became a symbol, eventually inspiring the character, Captain Ludd, the fictitious leader of the Luddites, a bastion of the underprivileged work force.
Although these revolts wouldn’t have happened had employers not taken advantage of the labor force, driving them into insolvency for the sake of profit shares, the ongoing march of human technology generated the circumstances that led to these revolutions. The Industrial Revolution itself shifted labor away from artisan craftmanship, positions which often required numerous years of apprenticeship, ensuring that the craftsman himself was a valuable commodity to his employer.
Industrialization enabled product reproducibility, wide availability, and cheaper goods that a wider range of classes could afford. The invention of factory lines also ensured that production was compartmentalized and training comparatively easy in contrast to the earlier artisanal system. Unfortunately, this also meant that barriers to entry for any given workman were dramatically reduced, making floormen almost as interchangeable (and thus expendable) as the factory parts they operated. This offered poor leverage to the workforce in order to garner fair wages from their employers during a time when there was little government intervention on behalf of laborers. Although the riots did succeed in improving some workers’ wages, it did not slow the change from artisanal to industrial business– a change that lay at the heart of men’s disquiet.
Today, our society faces a similar transition from what was once a largely blue collar country to a progressively white collar college-educated workforce. And a similar unrest amongst those who remain at the crossroads of that transition in the job force are trapped in a no-win position. And yet, just as with industrialization, the rise of the science and technology (SciTech) fields ensures that society will continue to change. Some call it Progress and look forward to the boon to society; others fear losing a way of life that has lasted perhaps generations. Both views are understandable– though neither will alter the march of time.
It’s important that, even if we may mourn the passing of an era, we recognize that the progress of SciTech is inevitable and must plan accordingly. It’s predicted that even within the next decade, for instance, the trucking industry will begin the switch to driverless trucks, putting many truckers out of work. And already coal miners have felt the sting of a dying industry– a vulnerability that has been taken advantage of politically, though no political promises will revive a bygone era.
It has all happened before. And though I’m sure many will not “go gentle into that good night,” night will come nevertheless. Industry will continue to evolve and, just as with biological evolution, some will adapt and some will not.