5) To Pierce the Golden Cuirass

Submitted by Ed on November 19, 2010


On the battlefield, which is called the labour market, it is important that the belligerents meet with equal weapons. The capitalist opposes a golden breastplate to the blows of the adversary who, knowing beforehand his offensive and defensive inferiority, tries to remedy it by having recourse to the many ruses of war.

The worker being powerless to attack his enemy in the front, tries to do so at the side, striking him in this most vital centre: the money bag.

There happens then to the masters what happens when a people, which, wishing to repel a foreign invasion and having not sufficient forces to meet its armies in open battle, adopts the tactics of guerillas and ambuscades - a humiliating fight for the great army corps, but so terrible and murderous that often the invaders refuse to recognise their opponents as in a state of belligerency.

This execration of the regular armies for the guerrillas does net surprise us, neither we are astonished at the horror capitalists express for SABOTAGE.

In truth SABOTAGE is to the social war what guerrillas are to national wars. It arises from the same feelings, answers to and meets the same necessities and bears the same identical consequences on the workers' mentality.

Every one knows how much a guerilla warfare develops individual courage, daring and determination - the same may be said of SABOTAGE. It keeps the workers in training, preventing them from relaxing into a pernicious sloth - and as it requires a permanent, restless action, it naturally obtains the result of developing the worker's initiative, of training him to act by himself and of stirring his combativeness.

Of these and kindred qualities the worker is enormously in need, for the boss acts towards him with the same scruples as those of the invading armies operating in a hostile country. That is, sacking, pillaging and plundering the very most they can.

The billionaire Rockefeller has reproved this capitalistic capacity - though, naturally, he puts it shamefully in constant practice. "The trouble with some employers" - wrote the American Croesus - "is that they do not pay the right wages. Hence the tendency of the worker to diminish his labour."

This tendency to a reduction of labour noticed by Rockefeller (a reduction which he justifies with his rebuke to the employers), is nothing but SABOTAGE under the simplest aspect under which it presents itself to the intellect of the average worker: a slacking off of work.

It may be called the instinctive and primordial form of SABOTAGE.

It is just this that in 1908 at Bedford, Ind., U.S.A., was deliberated upon by some hundred workers who had been notified of a forthcoming reduction of wages.

Without saying a word these workers went to a neighbouring machine shop and had their shovels cut smaller - whereupon they returned to their work and answered to their bosses: "Small wages, small shovels. This form of SABOTAGE, however, is only possible to the day workers. It is, in fact, too evident that piece workers have no interest whatever to reduce their output, for in such a case they would themselves be the first victims of their passive revolt.

The latter must then resort to other means and their attention must be directed to lower the quality, not the quantity, of their work.

In relation to this the "Bulletin de la Bourse du Travail de Montpellier," on the 1st of May, 1900, published an article which said in part:

"If you are machinists it will be easy with two cents worth of emery dust or even with a little sand to clog your machine and cause loss of time and costly repairs to the boss. If you are a cabinetmaker nothing will be easier than to deteriorate a piece of furniture without your boss noticing it at first sight. A tailor does not have to think long how to spoil a suit or a piece of cloth, a store clerk or salesman with a skilful stain on clothes and other articles of wearing will provoke their sale as damaged and imperfect stain on clothes and other articles of wearing will cause breakage and upsetting of goods (the mistake was made no one knows by whom, and the boss loses the customers). A farm hand could once in a while make a mistake with his hoe or scythe or sow bad seeds in the fields, and so on."

As it appears from this quotation the applications of SABOTAGE vary to the infinite. But, whichever they be, the workers who practice them must constantly keep in mind that one thing is strictly prohibited to them, ie., whatever could react to the disadvantage or detriment of the consumer.

SABOTAGE must be directed against the boss either by reducing the output or by deteriorating and making unusable the product or by disabling and paralysing the instruments of production - but the consumer, we repeat, must never suffer by this war waged exclusively against the exploiter. An example of the efficacy of SABOTAGE is given by the methodical application of it by the Parisian barbers.

Used as they were to shampoo their clients at the epoch of their last conflicts they decided to extend the system to the signs of their bosses' shops. By this system which in Parisian slang is called badigeonnage, they obtained an earlier closing of the barber shops at night and a weekly day of rest by the general closing up of all shops in a certain specified day of the week1 .

The workers strongly insist on the specific character of SABOTAGE which consists in hurting the boss, not the consumer, but they must fight hard against the lying attitude of the capitalist press which is vitally interested to distort the facts and present SABOTAGE as a dangerous menace to the public.

Nobody has forgotten the commotion produced by the weird recitals of the daily papers about some bread which was supposed to have contained ground glass.

The Syndicalists actually sweated to declare that to put glass dust in the bread was simply a hateful, stupid and criminal act and that the bakers could not have even thought of such a dastardly deed. Nevertheless, and in spite of all their denials and denunciation of the cowardly lies, this calumny was insinuating itself in the public mind, arraying against bakers public opinion and a great number of people to whom the dictums of their paper are gospel truths.

As a matter of fact in all the various phases of the bakers strike SABOTAGE was strictly confined to the deterioration of the shops, the sieves and the ovens. As to the bread, if there was baked any that was not eatable (either done too much or too little, unkneaded, saltless or yeastless but never with pulverised glass or any other foreign matter), it was not nor could be the customer to suffer through it, but the boss baker alone.

It were, indeed, necessary to believe the buyers a mass of hopeless fools to think that they would accept instead of bread an indigestible and nauseating mass. In case anyone had carelessly accepted such a loaf he would, of course, have immediately returned it and demanded an edible one in exchange.

It may therefore be assumed that the story of the ground glass was nothing but a fanciful illustration of the capitalist argument intended to discredit SABOTAGE in general and, in that instance, the bakers' strike.

The same may be said of the bomb exploded in 1907 by a daily paper whose specialty is to misrepresent the labour movement. This paper printed that a drug clerk who had the SABOTAGE mania had substituted strychnine and other violent poisons for the harmless drugs of a prescription.

Against these tales - which were nothing but shameful lies - the Drug Clerks' Union rightly protested.

In reality, if a drug clerk had the intention of applying SABOTAGE he would never think of poisoning the patients - a deed which after causing their death would also land the SABOTAGER in jail whilst it would leave totally undisturbed the boss druggist.

Instead of that, the drug clerk who would really SABOT his boss would know how to go about it in a different way; he would for instance, waste the chemical ingredients in filling his prescriptions, or better still use the best, purest and therefore costliest drugs instead of the cheap adulterated ones generally in use.

In this latter case he would, moreover, free himself from the culpable complicity which a drug clerk is often compelled to submit to in taking a hand in the boss's own SABOTAGE - the truly criminal one - which consists in selling drugs of the lowest quality, totally ineffective, or almost so, instead of the pure products prescribed by the physician.

It is therefore useless to insist in the demonstration that pharmaceutical SABOTAGE rather than being harmful is indeed beneficial to the sick.

It is, in fact, with these results and intents - ie., favourable to the consumer - that SABOTAGE is applied in many trades especially by those concerned with alimentation and foodstuffs.

If there is anything to complain of it ought to be that SABOTAGE has not yet become a daily practice of the working class in these latter industries.

It is indeed deplorable to notice how often the workers lend themselves to the most abominable tricks against their brothers and to the detriment of public health in general, without their realising the great responsibility that befalls them for actions which, though not within the criminal law, nevertheless do not cease to be crimes.

The following quotation from a manifesto the people of Paris issued by the Cooks' Union in 1905, goes further than any argument towards illuminating the reader on this subject:

"The head cook of a popular restaurant noticed one morning that the meat which had been brought m was so far gone as to constitute a serious danger to the ones that would eat it. Accordingly he notified the proprietor who on his side insisted that it be cooked and served just the same.

"The chef, disgusted by such cynical demeanour, refused to become an accomplice to the wanton poisoning of the customers, whereupon he was forthwith discharged for his conscientious scruples and all the restaurateurs of Paris informed of his dismissal. He was, in other words, blacklisted. So far the incident reveals only a shameless act of an individual boss as contrasted to an honourable one by an individual worker - but the consequences of that were so far and wide and revealed such a scandalous and dangerous solidarity amongst the restaurant owners as to compel us to denounce it.

"When the discharged chef presented himself again to the employment bureau kept by the Restaurant Men's Association, the manager of it bluntly told him that a cook must not be concerned if foodstuffs are wholesome or decayed, that a cook is not responsible and therefore, being paid, must strictly confine himself to obey orders and that finally, his refusal being unwarranted and peremptory, from that day on he must not rely any more on the bureau to get employment.

Either die of starvation - or become an accessory to poisoning - this is the dilemma imposed upon the workers by the Restaurant Men's Association. That, besides, means that the bosses' unions, far from decrying the sale of rotten meats, hide and defend such an infamous traffic and persecute with malignant hatred whoever tries to prevent the wholesale poisoning of his fellow men.

This episode, of course, is not unique, and in Paris as everywhere else the restaurant keepers who unscrupulously serve putrid food are more than one - if not the rule. On the other hand, the cooks that have the courage to follow the example of their Parisian colleague are mighty scarce. The reason is that by showing too much conscience they risk being discharged and blacklisted. The fear of unemployment is such as to paralyse many brains, shake many good resolutions and check and muzzle many revolts. This is why the mysteries of the kitchens - whether popular or aristocratic - are never revealed.

And yet it would be so useful to the consumer to know what suspicious foods are manipulated in the resorts where they get their meals! It would be indeed quite instructive to the average man to know that the lobster stew he eats is made with the dining room remains of the crab bones of the previous day, accurately scraped out of their flesh which still adhere to them, beaten in brass mortars and finally coloured with a pink substance.

Likewise he surely would be glad to know that the filets de cheveau are but pieces of abnormally coloured beef, highly flavoured; that to cure and "rejuvenate" the ill-smelling and rotten tasting fowl they stick them with a red hot spit, that all the restaurant supplies ( orks, plates, glasses, etc.), are dried with the napkins already used by the clients and so on.

The list would be long and nauseating should we enumerate all the "tricks of trade" of the rapacious and shameless business men who perched in the corners of their shops, not only do their very best to spoliate their clients but also often try to poison them altogether.

On the other hand it is not necessary to know the systems - it would be enough to know in which respectable establishments such crimes are perpetrated.

That is why it is to be hoped and desired in the interest of public health that the workers in that line of trade SABOT the artificial and stolen reputations of their unscrupulous masters and thus warn and put us on guard against these shameless malefactors.

We must here rapidly observe that the cooks have also the means for another type of SABOTAGE - the preparing of dishes in the most excellent way with all the possible and fastidious care and attentions and all the perfections suggested by culinary art and, in the popular eating houses, by being liberal and generous in making the portions.

From all this it clearly results that for the kitchen hands in particular and the food workers in general, SABOTAGE identifies itself with the interests of the consumers.

Some will object, perhaps, that, for instance, the cook who reveals the unpleasant and unsanitary secrets of the kitchen does not commit an act of SABOTAGE but just gives a plain and simple example of professional integrity deserving commendation and encouragement. If so these worthy gentlemen had better be careful for with their encouragement they tread on slippery ground which may precipitate them into an abyss - they may thus unintentionally and unknowingly arrive at a logical condemnation of modern society.

Fraud, sophistication, lie, theft, fake and humbug are the warp and woof of capitalist society; to suppress them would be equal to the killing of society itself.

It is useless to nurse any illusions; the day when it would be tried to introduce into social relations, in all their strata, a strict honesty and a scrupulous good will, nothing would remain standing - neither industry nor commerce nor finance - absolutely nothing!

Now, it is evident that to launch safely his underhand manipulations the employer cannot act alone. He needs help, which in this case means accomplices. And he finds them in his workers and other employees. It follows logically that, wishing to associate the workers in these manoeuvres - but not in his benefits and profits - the boss, whatever the field of his activity, exacts from them a complete submission to his private interests and forbids them to pass any judgment on his operations or to "interfere with his business."

If any such operation is fraudulent, the workers must not be concerned - it is not their business. "Workers and employees in general are not responsible. So far as they are paid they have nothing to do but obey," remarks very explicitly the manager of the restaurant owners' employment bureau.

As a consequence of this subtle sophistry, the worker must renounce his personality, stifle his sentiments and act as dumb as a machine.

Every rebellion to the orders received, every violation of the professional secret, every revulsion at practices, to say the least, dishonest, to which he is compelled to submit, constitutes for him a felony against his boss.

Therefore, should he refuse to be blindly and passively subdued, should he dare to denounce the filthy practices they want him to be part and parcel of, he is considered and dealt with as a mutineer in open warfare against his employer and his scruples are termed SABOTAGE.

This line of thought, however, is not strictly peculiar to the bosses. Even the labour unions consider as an act of war and as SABOTAGE all revelations prejudicial to the interests of the capitalists.

This ingenious way of driving back the hosts of human exploitation has been called with a special name: open-mouthed sabotage. The expression could not be happier or more significant.

How many are there, indeed, who have built up real fortunes, thanks to the system of being silent on the capitalist robberies!

Without the silence of the exploited that help them it would be very hard, if not impossible, for the exploiters to manage well their sordid business. If they succeeded, if the clients fell into their traps and snares, if their profits from a snow-ball have become an avalanche, they owe their thanks to the silence of their employees.

Well, now, these mutes of the commercial and industrial harems are getting tired of keeping their mouths shut. They want to speak, and what they have to say is of such a nature that it will create a void around their masters.

This kind of SABOTAGE, which with its novel and mild methods, may nevertheless become as terrible to many capitalists as the rude paralysis of precious instruments of production, is about to have the greatest diffusion.

It is this kind of SABOTAGE which often the masons resort to by revealing the flaws of the building they have finished - flaws (or frauds) ordered by the contractor to his exclusive advantage - walls lacking in thickness, bad or second-hand material, subtraction of pieces of ornament., etc.

"Open mouthed" also the workers of railway tracks and tunnels who will henceforward denounce the criminal defects of construction and support.

"Open mouthed" the drug clerks, butchers, delicatessen and grocery clerks and others who, in order to obtain better conditions and wages shall proclaim from the housetops the frauds and trickeries of the trade.

"Open mouthed" the bank and stock exchange clerks who will denounce the devious and sordid plans and operations of the barons of finance.

In a great mass meeting held last July by these latter in Paris, their union published an official resolution in which "all the bank and exchange employees are called upon to break at last their professional silence and reveal to the public all that happens in those dens of thieves which are the financial houses."

At this point we must ask ourselves - what will be said of the "open mouthed" device by the punctilious moralists who condemn SABOTAGE in the name of morality?

Against which of the two conflicting parties will they hurl their anathemas - the employers or the employees?

Against the employers - thieves, defaulters, burglars and poisoners who want to associate the workers in their crimes, or against the employees who, by refusing to aid and abet the dishonest and scoundrelly practices of their exploiters, set their own conscience free and put the consumer on his guard?

  • 1We do not believe that the shampooing or damaging of signs constitutes sabotage - if it did even breaking the boss's gold watch or cutting his coat tails would be sabotage. As we understand it by Pouget's own definition sabotage consists only in slackening work or temporarily disabling the instruments of production and should be strictly confined to that. Couldn't the barbers take an hour for a hair cut instead of half an hour, or use expensive tonics and perfumes instead of cheap free bay rum and so forth? The workers have no use for bauigeonnage - they leave it to - the suffragettes. - Translator.