Saturday, April 21, 2012

Forgotten History

Ninety-eight years ago yesterday was the Ludlow Massacre:

How many remember this? April 20, 1914: The Ludlow Massacre (What About Marx)
So what was this "Ludlow Massacre"? It was one of the greatest battles in the history of class war in USA. And since it was named "massacre", you've probably guessed that it was much more brutal than teargassing the OccupyWallStreet protestors - it was more in the "Game Of Thrones" category of hurting your opponent. And this is probably why the big media don't like talking about it: It is much easier to "manufacture consent" when you omit some little details, like the killing annihilation of "a few workers" who dared to go on strike.
There was a similar incident in my neighborhood in 1886 that is commemorated with a plaque - a shooting of workers at the Rolling Mills by the Republican governor Jeremiah Rusk:  The Bay View Massacre

And exactly two hundred years ago was one of the major incidents of the Luddite Uprising:
In the midst of the British industrial revolution, skilled textile workers feared for their jobs. An uprising began in 1811 when Nottinghamshire weavers attacked the new automated looms that were replacing them. The workers took inspiration from a fabled General Ludd or King Ludd living in Sherwood Forest. His fanciful name may have come from a young Leicestershire weaver called Ned Lud, who in the late 18th Century was rumoured to have smashed two stocking frames.
The machine breaking spread to West Yorkshire wool workers and Lancashire cotton mills, in what the historian Eric Hobsbawm called "collective bargaining by riot". Machinery was wrecked, mills were burned down and the Luddites fought pitched battles with the British Army. The response of the state was brutal. Machine breaking became a capital offence. At trials in York, 17 Luddites were hanged and another 25 transported to Australia, while in Lancaster eight were hanged and 38 sentenced to transportation.
One of the most serious incidents happened two hundred years ago this month. About 150 Luddites armed with hammers and axes attacked Cartwright's mill in Rawfolds, near Huddersfield. The authorities shot two of them dead and the attack was eventually repelled.  For Katrina Navickas, author of Loyalism & Radicalism in Lancashire 1798-1815, they were working class heroes. Trade unions had been banned in 1800 and here was another way for workers to defend their livelihoods.
 Are You A Luddite? (BBC)
Huddersfield was a centre of civil unrest during the Industrial Revolution. In a period where Europe was experiencing frequent wars, where trade had slumped and the crops had failed, many local weavers faced losing their means of livelihood due to the introduction of new machinery, which would have condemned them to poverty or even starvation. The Luddites began destroying mills and machinery in response; one of the most notorious attacks was on Cartwright — a Huddersfield mill-owner, who had a reputation for cruelty — and his Rawfords Mill. In his book Rebels Against the Future, Kirkpatrick Sale describes how a large army platoon was stationed at Huddersfield to deal with Luddites; at its peak, there were around a thousand soldiers in Huddersfield and only ten thousand civilians. In response, the Luddites began to focus their attacks on nearby towns and villages, which were less well-protected; the largest act of damage that they ever did was the complete destruction of Foster's Mill at Horbury — a village which is about 10 miles (16 km) east of Huddersfield. The government campaign that eventually crushed the movement was provoked by a murder that took place in Huddersfield. William Horsfall, a mill-owner and a passionate prosecutor of Luddites, was killed in 1812. Although the movement faded out afterwards, Parliament began to increase welfare provision for those out of work, and to introduce regulations to improve conditions in the mills.
Huddersfield (Wikipedia)

Incidentally, the use of Luddite as a putdown to anyone who doesn't unthinkingly embrace technological novelty is not accurate:
But both historians agree that today's use of "Luddite" is wrong. To use the term for someone who ignores Twitter or refuses to move from analogue to digital TV is a complete misrepresentation, says Griffin."We use it for people who are hostile to technology, who don't want to get a mobile phone," she says. "But what concerned the Luddites about technology was that it was going to cut their wages." An accurate modern example, according to Griffin, is the 1986 battle of Wapping when print unions picketed Rupert Murdoch's new hi-tech newspaper offices in protest at the computerisation they feared would make them obsolete. In recent years, the term has been used for opponents of planning reform, ID cards, Tesco and goalline technology. Prince Charles is a target, as is the novelist Jonathan Franzen - after an attack on e-books and Twitter - and Oasis were once described by fellow band Bloc Party as "repetitive Luddites".
And Luddites were hardly the only ones resisting the new economic order, just the most well known:
The rural equivalent of the Luddites were farm workers who took part in the Swing Riots of the early 1830s. Ricks were burnt, threshing machines destroyed and tithe barns attacked. But no-one remembers this now for they never developed a recognisable brand, she says.

So however grating it is to hear an iPhone refusenik invoking the weavers of Nottinghamshire, Navickas is glad that "Luddite" remains a popular part of everyday speech.

The irony is that as the speed of technological change accelerates, the term "Luddite" has never been more necessary.
Per Wikipedia:
The Swing Riots were a widespread uprising by agricultural workers; it began with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830, and by early December had spread throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.

As well as the attacks on the popularly hated, labour-displacing, threshing machines the protesters reinforced their demands with wage and tithe riots and by the destruction of objects of perceived oppression, such as workhouses and tithe barns, and also with the more surreptitious rick-burning, and cattle-maiming. The first threshing machine was destroyed on Saturday night, 28 August 1830, and by the third week of October more than 100 threshing machines had been destroyed in East Kent.

The anger of the rioters was directed at three targets that were seen as the prime source of their misery: the tithe system, the Poor Law guardians, and the rich tenant farmers who had been progressively lowering wages while introducing agricultural machinery. If caught, the protesters faced charges of arson, robbery, riot, machine breaking and assault. Those convicted faced imprisonment, transportation, and ultimately execution.

The Swing Riots had many immediate causes, but were overwhelmingly the result of the progressive impoverishment and dispossession of the English agricultural workforce over the previous fifty years, leading up to 1830. In parliament Lord Carnarvon had said that the English labourer was reduced to a plight more abject than that of any race in Europe, with their employers no longer able to feed and employ them.
And since we're on the subject, let's not forget Chartism, a nineteenth-century forerunner of the Occupy Movement:
Chartism was a working class movement for political reform in Britain between 1838 and 1848. It takes its name from the People's Charter of 1838. Chartism was the first mass working class labour movement in the world. "Chartism" is the umbrella name for numerous poorly-coordinated local groups, often named "Working Men's Association," articulating grievances in many cities from 1837. Its peak activity came in 1839, 1842 and 1848. It began among skilled artisans in small shops, such as shoemakers, printers, and tailors. The movement was more aggressive in areas with many distressed handloom workers, such as in Lancashire and the Midlands.
It began as a petition movement which tried to mobilize "moral force", but soon attracted men who advocated strikes and violence, such as Feargus O'Connor. One faction issued the "People's Charter" in 1838 and it was widely adopted by the movement. The People's Charter called for six basic reforms to make the political system more democratic: universal male suffrage; a secret ballot; no property qualification for members of Parliament; pay members of Parliament (so poor men could serve); constituencies of equal size; annual elections for Parliament.
Eventually, the first five goals were achieved, but that happened long after Chartism was a spent force. Chartism flourished in hard times, and faded during prosperity. Political elites saw the movement as dangerous and refused to negotiate with it or deal with its demands. The government permanently crushed the movement in 1848. The movement produced no immediate reforms, but it did attract the attention of the working class, which was not allowed to vote. Historians see Chartism as both a continuation of the 18th century fight against corruption and as a new stage in demands for democracy in an industrial society.
And let's not forget this: Financial Panics of the nineteenth century.

Authoritarian capitalism is nothing new. In the days of Occupy gassing, mass unemployment, a declining labor force, banking crises, debt slavery and increasing automation, have any of these issues really been settled? Will it take people getting shot again? Please watch this:


Alex Tabarrok's original post: Debtor’s Prison for Failure to Pay for Your Own Trial (Marginal Revolution). Incidentally, MR is generally considered a right leaning/libertarian blog. Even they are shocked at what's happening. Good on them! And if debtor's prisons weren't bad enough, today's Republicans are not only cutting taxes on the rich, but raising them on the rest of us!
If there's one unshakable, unwavering rule in American politics in the 21st century, it's this: Republicans oppose any tax increases on anyone by any amount for any reason, no matter the consequences. Full stop.

There is, however, a pesky little asterisk tied to this rule that often goes overlooked: a whole lot of Republicans support tax hikes on the poor. Indeed, the House Republican budget plan, as written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), actually increases the tax burden on those at the very bottom of the income scale.

ThinkProgress' Scott Keyes asked Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, about this yesterday. Tiberi stressed the need for low-income families, many of whom have no federal income tax burden at all, to have some "skin in the game." This is a surprisingly common sentiment in GOP circles. Indeed, none other than Mitt Romney told voters in Florida last year, "I think it's a real problem when you have half of Americans, almost half of Americans, that are not paying [federal] income tax."

Got that? Millions of struggling Americans are not currently required to pay federal income taxes, and the presumptive Republican nominee considers that "a real problem," which presumably he would try to fix if elected.

When Democrats want millionaires to pay a little more, it's socialism. When Republicans want the poor to pay a little more, it's just helping these low-income Americans have some "skin in the game."

Welcome to class warfare, Republican style.
'Skin In The Game' Steve Benen (MSNBC)

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