Breaking Things at Work

The Luddites Are Right about Why You Hate Your Job

176 pages

English language

Published April 19, 2021 by Verso Books.

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2 stars (1 review)

"In the nineteenth century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English countryside, practicing drills and manoeuvres that they would later deploy on unsuspecting machines. The movement has been derided by scholars as a backwards-looking and ultimately ineffectual effort to stem the march of history; for Gavin Mueller, the movement gets at the heart of the antagonistic relationship between all workers, including us today, and the so-called progressive gains secured by new technologies. The Luddites weren't primitive and they are still a force, however unconsciously, in the workplaces of the twenty-first century world. Breaking Things at Work is an innovative rethinking of labour 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. Mueller argues that the …

1 edition


2 stars

First an foremost: You're better off reading many of the books that he uses as resources before you are this one because he super-oversimplifies everything in ways that remove context and information. (This includes Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks and Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil.)

Second, he intentionally erases a huge chunk of history in order to (attempt to) achieve his stated goal in the introduction, which is to convince people to be Marxists. He completely writes out any time anarchists even participate in something, and it's particularly egregious when talking about the IWW (an organisation that has been very much shaped by interactions with anarchists). He intentionally overlooks people (socialists and anarchists) who could make his point simply because they can't be vaguely referenced as 'communist' and co-opted into Marxist thought. It's really blatantly frustrating.

That said, there are some points where I was made curious. But …