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Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Are Right About Why You Hate Your Job

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Where you see those kinds of struggles like tech won’t build it, or some of the organizing with Tech Workers Coalition, fitting into the argument? Benjamin is saying, instead of assuming history is on our side, let’s throw the brake, sever the simplistic link between capitalist development and the construction of socialism, stop the process, because otherwise we’re going to be taken for a ride. We have a situation where it will be harder and harder for people to just move to another firm, to say I hate working at Facebook, but Google’s nicer, I’ll work for them. While their manifesto specified that they did not oppose technology as such, the neo-Luddites’ opposition to everything from genetic engineering to television, computers, and “electromagnetic technologies” belied a debt to anti-civilization anarcho-primitivist politics. Even all these dystopian fictions that are so popular now have the underlying assumption that we’re on the trolley path that runs over a lot of people, and there’s nothing we can do.

The British government ultimately dispatched 12,000 troops to suppress Luddite activity, which historian Eric Hobsbawm said was a larger number than the army which the Duke of Wellington led during the Peninsular War. Odd tics, such as an identification with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski 8 and the subsequent flirtations of leading figure (and author of an evocative history of the Luddites) Kirkpatrick Sale with secession movements, 9 give off a distinct odor of crankishness. When one encounters Luddism in the world today it still tends to be as either a term of self-deprecation used to describe why someone has an old smartphone, or as an insult that is hurled at anyone who dares question “the good news” presented by the high priests of technology. I shoved myself out of my comfort zone last year and landed in Oregon, giving up nearly fifty years of history and familiarity for a new state, city, people, lifestyle.The luddites weren't primitive or even anachronistic - they are still a force, however unconsciously, in the workplaces of the 21st century world. Machine-Breaking and the 'Threat from Below' in Great Britain and France during the Early Industrial Revolution.

The problem with spectral Luddism is that one can feel its presence without necessarily understanding what it means. Breaking Things at Work convincingly translates Luddism into a framework for understanding a surprising range of practices. London’s massive Albion Mills, the probable inspiration for William Blake’s line about “dark Satanic mills,” was burned to the ground in 1791—possibly at the hands of its workers, who cheered the blaze from the riverbanks of the Thames while ignoring authorities’ pleas to help fight the fire.Discontented weavers, croppers, and other textile workers had begun a protracted insurgency against property and the state. Breaking Things at Work draws these legacies into a cumulative strategy for how we might come together to combat the daily indignities and miseries of contemporary work.

Breaking Things at Work is an innovative rethinking of labor and machines, leaping from textile mills to algorithms, from existentially threatened knife cutters of rural Germany to surveillance-evading truckers driving across the continental United States. Now more than ever we need to talk to our colleagues, think about how technology is being utilized by our employers, and fight back. G Gavin Mueller is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine.Our quaint notions of technological progress are no match for a machine that programmes the relentless imperatives of capital at our expense. They wanted a technology that they controlled, that operated according to their values, and that allowed them to have the kind of communities that they’d already become accustomed to.

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