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Word Wisdom: Luddite

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
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Word Wisdom

The other day I heard the comment, “How blissful it is not to have a smartphone. Everyone who owns one seems to be fixated on it constantly.” Such a person could be categorized as a Luddite. So might be one who is proud of the fact that they still own a rotary phone connected to a landline. The term is used for one who is generally opposed to technological changes. I think it is appropriate that we investigate this term so close to the Labour Day Weekend, as it is connected to labour terminology.

The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to April 15, 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organized Canada's first significant demonstration for worker's rights. The aim of the parade was to force the release of the 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour working day. Trade unions were illegal and striking was seen as a criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade. 

There was enormous public support for the parade. A few months later, a similar parade was organized in Ottawa and passed the home of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John Macdonald. Later in the day, he appeared before the gathering and promised to repeal all Canadian laws against trade unions.

Labour Day was originally celebrated in the spring, but it was moved to the fall after 1894. Canadian trade unions are proud that this holiday was inspired by their efforts to improve workers' rights. As the event grew more popular, labour organizations pressured governments to declare the first Monday in September a statutory holiday. In the House of Commons, a bill sponsored by Prime Minister John Thompson (1892-1894) was passed to amend the holiday law for a Labour Day. 

In England at the start of the 19th century many families were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment. A war against Napoleon’s France meant that food was scarce and rapidly becoming more costly. On March 11, 1811, in the textile manufacturing centre of Nottingham, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages. That night, workers smashed textile machinery in a nearby village. Similar attacks occurred nightly at first, then sporadically, then in waves, and eventually it spread across a 70-mile swath of northern England. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices. They wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Fearing a national movement, the government soon positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories. Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offence.

These protesters were termed Luddites, after Ned Ludd, who, myth said, destroyed the equipment of a stocking weaver in the early 19th century. The owner was replacing workers with a machine. The Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new. They were protesting the way machines shaped the lives of workers and society. The Luddites were standing up against technologies that put money or convenience above other human values.

And that is the essence of Labour Day. There is more to work than making money. How businesses treat their workers is important for the progress of humanity. 

Sometimes it might mean turning off the smartphone and going for a walk or some family activity. We dare not let technology rule us, we must control technology. I hope you allow these thoughts to guide your Labour Day. The weekend around the first Monday in September is not just for the last summer vacation, nor the Labour Day Classic football games. Although having said that, a Rider win is crucial for this year’s playoff race. Have a happy Labour Day!

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/MooseJawToday.com.  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to wordwisdom2021@gmail.com . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.