Louis Adamic immigrated to the United States from Yugoslavia at age 14 and was naturalized in 1918. This essay describes his experiences as a casual labourer in a variety of jobs during the 1920s, including his meetings with fellow workers who were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the 'Wobblies'.
(This text is Chapter 32 of the Rebel Press reprint of Louis Adamic's classic book 'Dynamite! A Century of Class Violence In America 1830-1930'.)
In 1920, following my discharge from the Army, I became, under bread-and-butter compulsion, a young working 'stiff' (I was just 20) with no particular trade. For several months I hung around the employment agencies - the 'slave market' in Chicago. There I met a couple of rather articulate IWW members who, seeing that I was a young ex-soldier, palpably 'on the bum' and a 'scissor bill' with a radical trend of mind, set out to make me into a class-conscious proletarian, a wobbly. They urged me to give up all ideas of ever being anything else than a working stiff for the chances of my becoming a capitalist or a bourgeois, in however modest a way, were extremely slender, indeed, almost nil. I was a foreigner and the number of opportunities was decreasing rapidly even for native Americans. I should make up my mind to remain a worker and devote such abilities as I had to the hastening of the decay of the capitalist system, which was doomed to collapse, they said, within a very few years whether I joined the IWW or not.
I learned of the methods by which, it appeared, sooner or later the workers would attain to power and abolish capitalism and wage slavery. At first I did not understand everything I was told. The wobblies used a word - sabotage - which, as I recalled, I had read some time before in Frank Harris's Pearson's Magazine without knowing its meaning. At the public library I did not find it in the dictionary. Then, in a dingy IWW reading room I came upon a little book entitled Sabotage, written originally in French by Emile Pouget and translated into English by Arturo Giovannitti, in 1912, while he was in jail at Lawrence, Massachusetts, on framed-up charges for his part as a wobbly leader in the famous textile workers' strike. There I found sabotage defined as:
any conscious or wilful act on the part of one or more workers intended to reduce the output of production in the industrial field, or to restrict trade and reduce profits in the commercial field by the withdrawal of efficiency from work and by putting machinery out of order and producing as little as possible without getting dismissed from the job.
The book was a sort of wobbly gospel.
In the same reading room I found pamphlets in which sabotage was discussed from the ethical point of view. A wobbly writer described it as a 'war measure' in the conflict between the capitalist class and the working class, and in war everything was fair and moral. The wobblies admitted that sabotage on the part of the workers was no goody-goody method, but defended it on the ground that it certainly was no worse than the methods to which the capitalists were resorting in the economic warfare. If the workers, in their efforts to gain economic advantages, damaged property and destroyed materials, did not the bosses, in the interest of profits, destroy property with a ruthless and careless hand? Have they not laid waste the country's national resources with utter lack of consideration for their human values - forests, mines, land and waterways? Did they not dump cargoes of coffee and other goods into the sea, burn fields of cotton, wheat and corn, throw trainloads of potatoes to waste - all in the interest of higher incomes? Did not millers and bakers mix talcum, chalk and other cheap and harmful ingredients with flour? Did not candy manufacturers sell glucose and taffy made with vaseline, and honey made with starch and chestnut meal? Wasn't vinegar often made of sulphuric acid? Didn't farmers and distributors adulterate milk and butter? Were not eggs and meat stored away, suffering deterioration all the while, in order to cause prices to rise?
All of this, the wobblies insisted, was sabotage, just as their doings were sabotage; the ethical difference between the worker and the capitalist with k their respective forms of sabotage was that the former was open and honest about it, and the latter dishonest, practising destruction secretly, under the guise of business, the while condemning proletarian saboteurs as criminals.
There was another difference. The wobblies preferred that property should not be destroyed; indeed, they were more jealous of its preservation than the capitalists, for at the basis of their philosophy was the idea that the property belonged to them. It was their - the workers' -creation; some day it would be theirs by right of possession; and until that day it should be preserved for them.
These things were openly discussed by the wobblies in meetings, newspapers and conversation. They didn't care who knew that they believed in and practiced sabotage. Some of them were veritable evangelists of sabotage, for they saw it as almost the only means - but a powerful one - whereby the cause of the underdog could be advanced. One of my wobbly friends said, in effect:
Now that the bosses have succeeded in dealing an almost fatal blow to the boycott; now that picket duty is practically outlawed in many sections of the country, free speech throttled, free assemblage prohibited and injunctions against labor are becoming epidemic - now sabotage, this dark, invincible, terrible Damocles' sword that hangs over the head of the master class, will replace all the confiscated weapons and ammunition of the workers in their war for economic justice. And it will win, for it is the most redoubtable of all, except for the general strike. In vain will the bosses get an injunction against strikers' funds, as they did in the great steel strike - sabotage, as we practice it, is a more powerful injunction against their machinery. In vain will they invoke old laws and make new ones against it - they will never discover sabotage, never track it to its lair, never run it down, for no laws will ever make a crime of the 'clumsiness and lack of skill' of a scab who bungles his work or 'puts on the bum' a machine he 'does not know how to run', but which has really been 'fixed' by a class-conscious worker long before the scab's coming on the job. There can be no injunction against sabotage. No policemen's club. No rifle diet. No prison bars.
It was some time before I realized how effective - and significant -sabotage really was.
Through a Chicago employment agency I found pick-and-shovel work on a long-time construction job outside of Joliet. I was one of perhaps a hundred muckers, among whom, as I soon discovered, were also several wobbly sabotage evangelists.
"Take it easy, kid", one of them said to me smilingly the second or third day. "Don't try to build the road in a day. T' hell with it! You're getting the same as me, three fifty a day, ain't you? Well then, don't work as if you were getting thirty-five." I had been working steadily, and this not because I wanted to see the road finished as soon as possible, but because, not having worked for months, and being plagued by some sort of blues, I thought that a few months of real work would toughen me up physically and otherwise. But now as the wobbly prophet of sabotage called me down for working too fast, I blushed - without knowing why. I became self-conscious.
For days the man kept close to me, continuing to urge me to slow down. "Put the brakes on, kid", he would say. Or, "Go take a sip of water". Or, "Say, don't you think it's about time you went to the can again?". Or, 'Tomorrow's another day, boy".
Then we would have long conversations, while he pretended to be digging beside me; he had stalling down to a science. He evidently was a well-read, self-educated bozo; and when I revealed to him that I was a fan of such writers as Upton Sinclair and Frank Harris, and was interested in the Russian revolution, he told me about the IWW movement, and about 'Big Bil'' Haywood and William Z Foster who, in 1912, had attended an international labour congress in Europe and brought back to America the French ideas of sabotage which since then have been considerably improved by the rank and file of the wobblies. He was a self-appointed apostle of sabotage, with a surprising gift of gab, going from job to job, making wobblies of scissor bills, teaching them what he called "the technique of stalling".
He taught me the technique. He said: "Don't take so much on the shovel, kid. Don't break your back. Which reminds me of what a bunch of stiffs did down in Bedford, Indiana, back in 1908, when the boss told 'em their wages were cut. They went to a machine shop and had their shovels shortened, and said to the boss, 'Small pay, small shovel'. They had the right dope. That was a kind o' instinctive, spontaneous sabotage; though sabotage, I mean the word, was then unknown in this country. That still holds good - 'small pay, small shovel'. You get three fifty; do you think that's all your labour is worth? Don't be a fool. So give 'em a small shovel; when nobody is looking, no shovel at all. T''hell with 'em! Stall - strike on the job. Savvy?"
I found stalling, even after I had more or less mastered the technique, harder than real work, but my instructor derived a deep satisfaction from it. He encouraged me, saying that by and by l should get used to it.
Originally - back in 1912 and 1913 - the wobbly idea was to damage the machinery just before going on strike, so that the scabs could not use it; but by 1920 the IWW and the communist agitators, who then began also to play an important role in the drama of sabotage in American industry, commenced to 'fix' machines while the work went on. On the road building job I worked on near Joliet the foreman had trouble every few days with the concrete-mixers, trucks and steam shovels. Suddenly things would break down in the middle of the forenoon or afternoon, whereupon 10 or 20 men stood around idle while the mechanics repaired them.
My friend the wobbly winked at me meaningfully, smiling. In the evening while we walked about he told me about sabotage stunts in which he had participated or of which he had heard.
One day he said: "I guess I'm a short-timer on this job. Did you notice how the old Irish buzzard" - meaning the foreman we worked under -"watches me all the time the last few days? They're getting wise to me; maybe one of the stiffs that I've tried to educate told them what my religion is." He smiled "I'll be fired in a day or two. But what the hell! I'll be on another job in a week, doing the same thing."
The next day he and three other men, also wobbly sabotage apostles, were paid off and cautioned to stay away in the future; But before they went I learned that the two miles of concrete road we had laid in the past month and a half would be full of wide cracks in a few weeks. They had put something in the cement that would cause it to crack and the contractor would have to do it all over again.
I stayed on the joliet job another month, long enough to see the concrete crack; then, with mid-summer near, I went on to St Louis with two young IWW who were confident that there we should have no difficulty getting work as harvest hands in the Missouri and Kansas wheat fields.
In St Louis the 'slave market' was also full of wobblies. They were all a rather jolly, if somewhat lopsided lot, aflame with a sort of fanaticism tempered with good humour. I heard the story (which I later verified) of an incident that occurred one winter before the first world war when the city was full of starving and freezing unemployed workers who had come in from the camps and fields. The wobblies decided to force the city to take care of them; and so one day several hundred of them invaded the restaurants, ordered big meals, ate, and then presented their checks to the cashiers, telling them to charge them to the mayor. Arrested, they made speeches in court that broke on the front page. The town got excited over the prospect of thousands heading for St Louis to eat at the mayor's cost - for that was just what they did, out of jail or in. The city council then hastily passed an emergency bill to start municipal houses with free beds and meals. The 'stunt' was a form of sabotage on the community, dramatic and humorous, which, frankly, appealed to me.
Indeed, not a few wobblies with whom I came into contact, though intensely serious, were genial, amusing and intelligent fellows, quite frank about their ideas and doings. They were freelance missionaries in the cause of the underdog to whom the end justified the means, with the self-imposed duty to harm the propertied classes as much as, and whenever, possible: guerrilla soldiers in the class war.
In the Kansas wheat fields, where I worked for several weeks in the summer of 1920, there was much stalling or striking on the job, and the threshers and other harvest equipment would break down in the midst of our work, when every hour counted to the farmer.
Some 30 miles away from where I worked, a wheat field nearly a mile square burned up. It created somewhat of a sensation in our camp. The wobblies I knew, most of them fairly level-headed stiffs, seemed opposed to fire and blamed the stunt on the communists, who were much more drastic. There were stories among the IWW that the communists in the United States had orders from Moscow to sabotage American industry. These stories probably were based upon a confidential circular said to be 'unquestionably authentic' - but which in all likelihood wasn't - which the United States department of justice 'discovered' and published at that time, and in which some 'executive committee in Moscow urged its representatives abroad, among other things to instigate general and particular strikes, injure machinery and boilers in factories, and do everything possible to disorganize capitalist industries.
There can be little question that, early in the last decade, communists in the United States engaged in such doings; only, let me hasten to say, there was and is no connection between them and several communist movements now existing in this country. Most American communists at that time were various kinds of dissenters from the IWW, none of whom would now have any connection with communism.
Regular leaders of conservative unions issued warnings to the strikers to steer clear of ultra-radical agitators. Even so, during the 1920s and '30s sabotage and striking on the job became a part of the psychology and action of millions of American workers who would resent being called wobblies or communists.
Late in 1921 1 found myself in the east again. Unable to get work ashore, I went to sea and during the next year sailed on five different American ships, on all of which I encountered sabotage, both among the sailors, wobbly and non-wobbly, and the officers (though, of course, the latter would not have called their doings sabotage).
As a messboy I saw wasted or thrown overboard thousands of dollars' worth of food supplies and as a seaman tens of thousands of dollars' worth of paint and ship's equipment. I met wobblies on every ship and made friends with some of them.
One of them, I remember, once said to me: "The American underdog is getting wised up and so is the American underling; I mean the small-time bosses and overseers, like the officers on a ship. They're beginning to realize they're underpaid and they act accordingly. I've been going to sea now for 15 years and, if I know anything - and I consider myself a pretty smart guy - there is, for instance, more graft, petty graft, on American ships than ever before. As you know, stewards ruin food and dump it overboard so that when they get into port they can order more provisions and collect a small commission on the purchase from the provision house The same is true of mates, engineers and masters. On some ships I've been on the whole gang of them was in cahoots, selling great big coils of expensive Manila rope in foreign ports or rolling them overboard, throwing over whole cans of ship's paint and so on - so that they could order more rope and paint, and collect cumshaw."
On a ship on which I made a round trip from New York to the Pacific coast the fo'c's'le was almost 100% saboteur - and some of the men had scarcely heard of lWWism. The wobblies had what at least they deemed a high social motive when they preached and practiced sabotage; the non-IWW saboteurs, however, seemed to be just in an ugly mood and derived a mean personal satisfaction when, instead of washing a paint brush, they tossed it over the rail or threw whole bucketfuls of paint into the sea. There was no shipmindedness. "To hell with 'er!" was the motto. "To hell with the owners!" We discussed the graft that the skipper, the chief engineer, the mates and the steward were pulling down each trip. I was told that on the second previous voyage the captain and the engineer had fixed up the engines so that the vessel had to be laid up in a San Pedro, California, shipyard for three weeks for $23,000 worth of repairs, for which they collected a bonus from the shipyard's agent.
I found out that lWW and other saboteurs aboard ships often helped officers do their dirty work, and with great gusto. I recall that once, when one of the mates ordered a group of us sailors to throw over the side a slightly damaged oil hose nearly 50 feet long and worth several hundred dollars, because the skipper did not want to bother making out a report to the home office the way it had been damaged, most of us laughed; it was a joke on the company - "to hell with it!"
An IWW sailor, perhaps the most intelligent worker I ever met, said to me once when we discussed sabotage on the ships:
You see in the magazines that the United States is having great difficulties in establishing a merchant marine of any consequence because in America shipbuilding costs exceed those elsewhere; because American investors would expect a larger return on capital invested in shipping than foreign companies make, and because the wages of American crews are higher than those paid by the lines of other countries - with the logical result, so they say, that the American freight and passenger rates must be higher, and consequently shippers find it advantageous to deliver their goods in foreign bottoms I'm no high-powered executive, only a fo'c's'le stiff; but I know enough to realize that all these alibis are only superficially true; the last alibi, perhaps, not even superficially. In point of fact, American officers and men do receive higher wages than the ships' crews of other countries except Canada; but in relation to the wages ashore American crews are hardly as well paid as the Japanese. And, to my mind, therein lies one of the primary causes of the sad state of the American merchant marine. The American go-getter in the shipping business, as his brothers in other lines, is stupidly greedy; for those who, caught between the circumstances of their environment and their own innate qualities and shortcomings, are compelled to sell him their brains and brawn, he usually has small consideration and rewards them as meagerly as he can manage for all the effort he can exact from them - with the result that in the long run his slaves get back at him, some of them through conscious sabotage, such as our lWW sabotage, which nibbles away at the vitals of the capitalist system; others, half-unwittingly, through sabotage which has no social aim and is purely personal revenge, but which blindly attains the same purpose - hastens the decay of the system. It is true that the so-called maintenance of American ships is higher than of most foreign ships, but that is solely because the crews don't give a damn for the ships or the owners and willfully waste. I don't doubt but that more is wasted on American ships than the shippers manage to get out of the government in subsidies.
A few months after he had said this to me - it was in 1922 - my wobbly sailor friend and I signed on the Oskawa at Philadelphia. She was a United States shipping board freighter, 6100 gross tons, built in 1 91 8 at a cost of nearly two million dollars and equipped with an up-to-date refrigeration system. We sailed to Hamburg with a small cargo. The trip there was uneventful. The crew was the usual crew that one found on American freighters, perhaps a little worse. The half dozen wobblies I found in the fo'c's'le unquestionably were the best men aboard. The skipper was an old man, not in the best of health, somewhat bewildered by his responsibility. The mates, engineers and the steward were a collection of bleary-eyed 'lime-juicers' and overbearing 'squareheads', licensed during the war emergency when almost anybody could have obtained a ticket. There was much drunkenness and brawling, along with poor navigation.
In Hamburg we picked up an enormous cargo of champagne and liqueurs for South America. Then, four or five days after leaving Germany, bottles began to pop in the officers' rooms and the mess-rooms; finally' even on the bridge and in the chart-room, and cases of the marvelous liquids found their way into the crew's quarters.
The old skipper - feeble and unresourceful character that he was, scared of his own authority, befuddled by endless shipping board regulations and the Seamen's Act, afraid of legal trouble which would entail making all sorts of reports at which he was not clever - was beside himself. The second mate was the only other officer who kept sober. The ship was thrown off her course several times; but, finally and miraculously, thanks in part perhaps to the six or seven IWW who stayed sober and helped the skipper to run the boat, she reached Brazil.
The cargo discharged, it was discovered that the Oskawa was short over 100 cases of champagne, kummel and other fancy hooch. The old man, of course, knew what had become of the stuff; but, nearly the whole ship being in a sort of conspiracy against him, he was unable to locate a single case aboard or prove anything against his officers. He signed for the shortage, to be made good by the ship. He looked around both in Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, but realized that he could not pick up any better officers and crew in South America, even should he be so fortunate as to rid himself of his present gang.
The Oskawa's cargo on the return trip to Hamburg was about 1000 tons of frozen meat.
A day or so out, the champagne bottles that they had hidden away began to pop once more in the officers' rooms and on the bridge. Most of the officers became openly hostile to the captain, who was at his wits' end. He carried a gun and, in his futile way, threatened to arm a few sailors, including myself and three of the lWW, whom he considered loyal.
One day someone fed too much oil into the furnaces, and the fire blazed out of the funnel, belching burning oil all over the ship. The fire destroyed or damaged a good part of the upper structure, including most of the lifeboats, the bridge and the chart-room; indeed, it was sheer luck that the sober part of the crew -- mostly IWW - managed to extinguish it. "We'd let 'er burn", said the wobblies, "if it weren't that we'd go to hell with 'er".
But the worst was yet to come. While still several days from Hamburg, the engineer burned out the dynamos, so that for the rest of the voyage the Oskawa was without lights and there was no more cold air for the refrigerator pipes. Indeed, to the great menace of other ships on that course, part of the time she sailed at night without running lights. We used oil lamps, which, however, were little better than nothing; and one night the first mate, too drunk in his bunk to raise himself and put out the light, kicked the lamp over and we had to put out another fire.
Then, instead of pumping the bilges, one of the men pumped out nearly all the fresh water! There was enough left for drinking but none for the boilers; so we were compelled to use salt water for steam, with the result that presently the valves were choked with salt. We had to stop every few hours to clean them out.
We were about a day off Madeira when the Oskawa's engines went out of commission entirely. We drifted a night and a day while the machinery was being sufficiently repaired to enable us to limp into Madeira, in which port, however, there were no facilities for any extensive repairs, and we procured only water and a few more lamps and some oil for the running lights. The dynamos, it appeared, were totally ruined. The refrigeration system was not working, the frozen meat began to melt and smell; whereupon, to make a good job of it, someone - I suspect one of the IWW - shot steam into the refrigerator pipes, with the result that before it was discovered much of the cargo was cooked or otherwise spoilt.
Anyhow, the wobblies laughed among themselves, figuring how much the United States government would have to pay for the ruined cargo.Somewhere off the coast of Holland, the fuel oil supply suddenly gave out, and we had to be towed into Hamburg, where the investigations that followed nearly drove the master out of his mind. At the end he was exonerated and some of the officers were jailed and deprived of their licences. The Oskawa was sufficiently repaired to be taken back to the United States and there put in the 'boneyard', where there already were hundreds of other ships in no better condition!
One of my IWW friends aboard said to me, "They couldn't have done a better piece of sabotage even if everybody from the skipper down had been a wobbly or a communist. Hallelujah!".
The Oskawa incident which, by the way, is a matter of record in Washington and also received considerable attention in the Hamburg press at the time, as well as some slight mention in the American newspapers - disgusted me utterly with sailoring and so I began to earn my living ashore again. From 1923 to 1927 I worked on dozens of jobs all the way from Philadelphia to Los Angeles - in steel, furniture, shoe and textile factories, on farms and ranches, in restaurants, in a stone quarry and a printshop, in a grocery store and an automobile plant, on construction jobs, on docks unloading ships - and practically everywhere I found some form of sabotage. Nowhere did I find any real zest for work, any pride in work.
In a furniture shop in Cleveland, where I managed to get a job as a carpenter's helper, I found cliques of workers organized to help one another in working for themselves in the boss's time, making parts out of the boss's material, then smuggling them out under their clothes in the evening, and finally assembling them at home into chairs and cabinets, either for sale or for their own use.
In a lace mill near Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I worked for a while, I found the operatives, especially the men, in a bad mood. The management was speeding up the machines, forcing the employees to work faster and faster for the same pay, with the result that there was much sabotage on the machinery. Looms were injured; on the large machines leather bands were cut with safety razor blades. The foreman blamed these things on "those communist bastards". On several of the cut leather bands one morning 'Sacco-Vanzetti' was inscribed in white chalk.
I worked in three or four restaurants in New York and Pittsburgh and encountered sabotage in at least two of them. In one place a communist dishwasher before quitting poured several cans of kerosene into barrels of sugar and urinated into containers of coffee and tea. I imagined that he went from job to job doing this sort of thing.
In New York I met another communist, a handsome red-headed young Irishman, whose special racket was to work on soda-fountains in the garment making sections and serve his communist friends, whom he counted by the score, expensive milk drinks and fancy sandwiches for which he handed them nickel and dime checks to pay the cashier. When he was discovered and discharged he found himself another job in the Bronx or Brooklyn near some factory employing great numbers of communists.
In a print shop in Kansas City the workers, instead of distributing expensive type, dumped it into the so-called 'hell box'. A printer friend of mine who has worked in big and small shops, union and non-union, all over the country, tells me that the hell box is still a very popular receptacle for type. Few printers nowadays retain any love for fine type or good workmanship.
In a shoe factory in Milwaukee a man was pointed out to me who was known among some of his fellow workers to be a saboteur. An eccentric-looking person, he hated the machines and had all sorts of devices to damage them. He was an indefinite sort of radical, and he considered the machines a great curse to humanity. I have encountered this hate for machines elsewhere. People vent it in various forms of sabotage, which has no connection with lWWism or communism, but is purely a matter of personal resentment and vindictiveness. I have seen people who - sometimes drunk, sometimes sober - cursed the machine and, passing by, shook their fists at the mills, declaring they were not their slaves. Every big industrial town seems to have 'nuts' who believe that machines are alive and hold them - the workers - in their power.
Shortly after the war I read - I forget where - about an American soldier who believed that machines were killing people in revenge for the work that they were made to do. "Stop the machines", he would cry, lying wounded in a hospital, "and there'll be no more war. Machines make war - machines kill us!".
During the 1920s big and bitter union upheavals were comparatively few in the United States, but the struggle of the have-nots against the haves went on unceasingly and relentlessly just the same; only now it was no longer open warfare. On the surface things were quiet, but underneath the workers were being infected with the germs of sabotage and striking on the job.
As a result of the employers' anti-union drives, the anti-red hysteria,marked by such incidents as the Centralia trial and the Sacco-Vanzetti affair, and the unionists' and radicals' inability to "match the industrialists' brains and weapons in open warfare, there was no effective organized radical movement in the last decade. There was, however, a vast unorganized radical movement, including millions of workers outside the unions and the socialist and communist parties, skilled and unskilled. They were left to their own devices to improve their lot in life and revenge themselves upon the system which used people only when their toil might bringp rofits for an employer, let them starve (unless they turned bootlegger or criminal) when there was a surplus of production, and utterly discarded them when they became old. After the suppression of the organized radical movement in 1922 or thereabouts, there was perhaps as much radicalism among American workers as ever before, only now it found scarcely any vent in organized open political or industrial action as it had 20 years ago, or even in the few years immediately after the first world war. The workers' radicalism now found individual, personal expression in doing as little as possible for the wages they received and in wasting as much material as possible. Their radicalism now lacked all social vision and purpose; its motive was mainly personal revenge.
This sort of radicalism continued into the 1930s. Workers were cynical. The motto in a factory where I once worked was: "To hell with 'em all but six; save them for pallbearers!" The more intelligent workers had no faith in politics. They sneered at the Socialist Party, especially those who had witnessed at close range the futile tactics of its leaders. They had no faith in trade unionism; most of those who belonged to the unions belonged because they must; because, for the time being, the unions still controlled certain jobs. They knew their leaders were crooked. I have heard members call their officials crooks from the floor in meetings and refer to their organizations as rackets. They had no faith in a better future for themselves as a class, while at the same time they felt that they were stuck - that most of them were fated to remain workmen till they got too old to work. They knew that the system was unjust to them; they had been told so by numberless red agitators and demogogues, past and present. They realized that most of their class movements, industrial and political, in the past had been largely ineffectual. They knew that the cause of low wages was a surplus of workers and that unemployment, which hit them every once in a while, was due to overproduction. And so, logically enough from their individual points of view, they struck on the job and wasted the bosses' time and material, thereby stretching out, as they felt, their spell of employment and diminishing the profits of employers, who, they believed, underpaid them.
This went on, more or less, as I have hinted, throughout industry, even where the IWW, who developed striking on the job and sabotage tactics in America, had never been strong (except, of course, in the great plants with the speed-up system, such as the Ford factories, where the motions of every worker were purely mechanical, prescribed by the management, and the foreman saw that a worker executed them with the required result). Early in the summer of 1930, for instance, the organized cafeteria owners in New York City and Brooklyn gave out the information that saboteurs among their employees wasted or destroyed from one to two million dollars' worth of food a year.
The working class had been driven to sabotage by greed on the part of the industrialists. When the IWW took it up, it was about the only effective weapon left to the underdog. Then the wobblies lost control of it and sabotage lost its social vision and purpose. The advocates of sabotage had turned loose in the community a force which they could not check and whose consequences were far beyond their intention.
Some employers, trying to combat sabotage, hired spies whom they paid more than regular workers, and whose business it was to spot strikers on the job and saboteurs and get them eliminated and blacklisted. But this, I think, was combating one evil with another, which produced a third and even greater evil. With spies in the factories, the workers distrusted one another, each believing that the other was or might have been a spy. This played the devil with the men's sense of honour. It tended to make 'heels' and 'sneaks' of them. I know of cases where workers practiced sabotage upon one another, 'framing' their fellows in order to get their jobs or gain other advantages. I know of a case where a man was beaten up by his fellow workers who believed him to be a spy. He happened not to be one.
Also, spies often encouraged sabotage; or, rather, detective agencies which specialized in saboteur spying frequently slipped saboteur instructors into the factories as workers. These taught the other employees subtler means of sabotage and soldiering, so that the detective whom the employers hired to watch the workers might have something to report. Thus, in some cases, the industrialists were quite helpless in the face of sabotage and striking on the job
Sabotage and striking on the job are forms of revenge that the working class in America - blindly, unconsciously, desperately - exacts for the employers' relentless, brutal opposition to its strivings in the past - revenge for the Ludlow massacre, for the Mooney-Billings frame up, for the Centralia injustice, for the Sacco-Vanzetti horror, for the cossackism in the steel strike.