Workers' Rebellions

The Industrial Revolution caused social changes at an unprecedented speed and scope. Crafts which had provided an outcome for generations, such as manual weaving, suddenly became unprofitable. After the Battle of Waterloo, the market in many countries entered a recession, market forces causing entrepreneurs to cut wages to a minimum. Poverty among the working class reached an unprecedented scale, also because the large-scale confiscation of church property during the revolutionary and Napoleonic years had deprived the Catholic church of the revenue she used to invest in charity. The governments, regarding the factories, pursued a laissez-faire policy; the prevalent philosophy was that the labour contract had been signed by free employers and free workers, and the state had no right to interfere.
Overall, the conditions under which workers were forced to work and live were bad. Occasionally, groups of workers were so desparate, that they took up arms, in most cases knowing that their rebellion was bound to fail.
The first such case were the LUDDITES of England, 1811-1817. The followers of Ned Ludd were upset about wage cuts and simultaneous rises in wheat prices; they resorted to the destruction of textile machines. The authorities took measures against them; occasional acts of violence continued until 1817.
In Lyon, France, the silk factory workers rose twice, in 1831 and in 1834.
In Silesia in 1844, weavers in Langenbielau, receiving extremely low pay due to the collapse of prices for cloth, took up arms, went from factory to factory and destroyed textile machinery. When Prussian troops appeared, many did not even try to flee, regarding death as a way to escape their misery. The 1844 weavers' revolt stirred up a discussion in the German press; Heinrich Heine, from his exile in Paris, wrote a poem condemning King, God and Fatherland for the fate of the weavers, for the fate of Germany in general.

The Luddites, from Spartacus Schoolnet, from Wikipedia, from A Web of English History
The Lyon Uprising from 1834, by Robert Bezucha
Die Schlesischen Weber (the Silesian Weavers), from bikonline, in German
Das Elend der Weber in Schlesien (Zimmermann 1885), from psm-data
DOCUMENTS Illustration : Insurrection in Lyon, 9-14 April 1934, posted by Mass Politics and the Revolution of 1848
Heinrich Heine, die Schlesischen Weber, posted by Boudewijn de Groot
REFERENCE The Luddites : The Declaration of the Framework Knitters (1812), n.124 (p.119), in Richard L. Tames, Documents of the Industrial Revolution 1750-1850, London : Hutchinson 1971
Kirkpatrick Sale, Rebels against the future, The Luddites and their war on the Industrial Revolution, Reading : Addison-Wesley 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 29th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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