6) The Various Methods of Sabotage

Submitted by Ed on November 19, 2010


Up to this point we have examined the various methods of SABOTAGE adopted by the working class without a stoppage of work and without abandoning the shop and factory. But SABOTAGE is not confined to this - it may become and is gradually becoming a powerful aid in case of strike. The multi-millionaire Carnegie, the iron king, has written that "to suppose that a man who is defending his wages and his necessities of life will sit peacefully while another is being put in his place is to suppose too much."

This is exactly what the syndicalists (industrial unionists) never cease to preach, repeat and proclaim.

But there is no deafer man than he who does not want to hear, and the capitalists belong to this category.

The same remark of millionaire Carnegie has been paraphrased by citizen Bousquet, secretary of the Paris Bakers' Union, in an article in "La Voix du Peuple."

"We may state" - writes Bousquet - "that the simple stoppage of work is not sufficient to realise the aims of a strike.

"It is necessary, indeed indispensable, to insure a good result of the conflict - that the tools, instruments, utensils, machines and other means of production of the shop, mill, mine, factory, oven, etc., also go on strike - or in other words, that they be put in a "non-working condition." The scabs often go to work and find these machines, tools, ovens, etc., in good condition, and this through the supreme mistake of the strikers who, having left in "good health" these means of production, have fatally left behind them the first reason of their failure.

"Now to go on strike leaving in a normal working state the machines and other instruments of labour simply means so much time lost for a successful struggle.

"Accordingly the bosses, who can always rely on the scabs, the army and the police, will continue to run the machines and half the strike will be lost.

"The most important part of a strike, therefore, precedes the strike itself and consists in reducing to a powerless condition the working instruments. It is the A B C of economic warfare.

"It is only then that the game between masters and workers is straight and fair, as it is clear that only then the complete cessation of work becomes real and produces the designed results, ie., the complete arrest of labour activity within the capitalist shop.

"Is a strike contemplated by the most indispensable workers - those of the alimentary trades? A quart of kerosene or other greasy and malodorous matter poured or smeared on the level of an oven and welcome the scabs and scabby soldiers who come to bake the bread. The bread will be uneatable because the stones will give the bread for at least a month the foul odour of the substance they have absorbed. Results: A useless oven.

"Is a strike coming in the iron, steel, copper or any other mineral industry?

"A little sand or emery powder in the gear of those machines which like fabulous monsters mark the exploitation of the workers, and they will become palsied and useless.

"The iron ogre will become as helpless as a nursling and with it the scab. . . ."

A. Renault, a clerk in the Western Railroad, has touched on the same argument in his volume "Syndicalism in the Railroads," an argument which cost him his position at a trial in which the commission acted as a court martial. "To be sure of success," explained Renault, "in case that all railroad workers do not quit their work at once - it is indispensable that a stratagem of which it is useless to give here the definition be instantaneously and simultaneously applied in all important centres as soon as the strike is declared.

"For this it would be necessary that pickets of comrades determined to prevent at any cost the circulation of trains be posted in every important centre and locality. It would be well to choose those workers amongst the most skilled and experienced, such as could find the weak points offhand without committing acts of stupid destruction, who by their open eyed, cautious and intelligent action as we]l as energetic and efficacious skill, would by a single stroke disable and render useless for some days the material necessary to the regular performance of the service and the movement of the trains. It is necessary to do this seriously. It is well to reckon beforehand with the scabs and the military. . . ."

This tactic which consists in reinforcing with the strike of the machinery the strike of the arms would appear low and mean but it is not so.

The class conscious toilers well know that they are but a minority and they fear that their comrades have not the grit and energy to resist to the end. Therefore, in order to check desertion and cut off the retreat to the mass, they burn the bridges behind them.

This result is obtained by taking away from the too submissive workers the instrument of their labour - that is to say by paralysing the machine which made their efforts fruitful and remunerative.

In this way treason is avoided and the deserters are prevented from treating with the enemy and resuming work before the due time.

Another point contends in favour of this tactic.

As Bousquet and Renault have remarked, the strikers have not only to reckon with the scabs, they must also mistrust the army. In fact, the habit of replacing the strikers with the soldiers is becoming more and more systematic. Thus, in a strike of bakers, electricians, railroad workers, etc., the government immediately steps in to cut its sinews and break it by having the military take the place of the rebellious workers, and the practice has reached such an extent that to thoroughly systematise it the government in the case of electricians has specialised a division of the signal corps to the running of the power houses and the handling of machinery moved by electricity - and the soldiers are always ready to "report for duty" at the first symptoms of a strike in the electrical industry.

It is consequently evident that if the strikers who are aware of the government intentions, should fail, before stopping work, to parry and foil the thrust of military intervention by making it impossible and ineffective - they would lose their fight at its very inception.

They would, indeed, be guilty of an unpardonable mistake, if having forseen the danger they had not remedied it on time. If they do, it happens then that they are immediately accused of vandalism and condemned for their lack of respect toward the machine and the tool. This criticism would be just if in the worker's mind there were a preconceived and systematic intention of deteriorating the machinery without any reason or provocation and without a definite aim, but this is not the case. If the workers disable the machines it is neither for a whim nor for dilettantism or evil mind but solely in obedience to an imperious necessity. It should not be forgotten that for many workers in the majority of strikes it is a question of life and death. If they do not paralyse the machines they surely go on to unavoidable defeat, to the wreck of all their hopes. On the other hand by applying sabotage the workers will surely call upon them the curses and insults of the bourgeoisie - but will also insure to themselves many great probabilities of success.

Taking into account the sum of the interests at play, it is easy to understand why the working class takes so lightly the anathemas of interested and polluted public opinion - and we find it but logical that the fear of being condemned by capitalists and their allies does not detain them from an ingenious and bold action which almost guarantees them victory.

The workers find themselves in a position about similar to that of a retreating army which, being pursued by the enemy, decides to destroy accoutrements, arms and provisions that would hamper them in their march and possibly fall into the hands of the enemy. In such a case - destruction is legitimate and wise - whilst in another case it would be sheer folly. On the strength of the same argument no one can possibly blame the workers who resort to sabotage in order to gain a victory for themselves. In fine, we can say of sabotage what has been said of all tactics and all weapons: The end justifies the means.

It is just in obedience to this irresistible necessity that the carmen of Lyons some years ago poured cement into the tracks of the switches thus preventing the circulation of the tramways manned by scabs.

The same may be said of the railroad workers of Medoc who went on strike in July, 1908. Before quitting work they took care to cut the !telegraph wires between the various stations and when the company tried how best it could to reorganise the service it was found that from the pumps of water reserves the screws and bolts had been taken off and hidden somewhere.

A clever system of SABOTAGE was adopted in Philadelphia by the workers of a great fur factory. Before stopping work the cutters were instructed by their union to alter the size of the patterns on which the clients' fur coats had to be made. Every cutter followed this advice and reduced by some one-third of an inch all the patterns he could lay his hands on. The strike was called and the boss, naturally, began to hire scabs but strange enough, the strikers did not seem to be excited and left them alone.

Imagine the surprise and rage of the boss when he at last found out that not one single garment was of the right size and shape. After having spent a goodly pile of dollars, the furrier was compelled to give in to his former employees, who, upon resuming work readjusted and repaired their patterns as before.

No one has yet forgotten the formidable chaotic disorganisation provoked in the spring of 1909 by the postal telegraphers' strike in France. This strike astounded a number of bourgeois, voluntarily short-sighted men, who overlook all social symptoms, even the most pronounced.

These worthy gentlemen would have been much less stupefied had they read what "Le Cri Postal," organ of the Postmen and Telegraphers' Union, had published in April, 1907.

"You want to crush our organisation to prevent us from bettering our class, but what you will never be able to prevent is that some fine day the letters and telegrams from Lille take a little stroll around Patpignan.

"What you cannot avoid is that the telephone wires be simultaneously tangled and the telegraphic instruments take strange and unexplainable fits. What you will never prevent is that ten thousand workers remain at their places, but with their arms crossed - what you cannot forbid is that ten thousand men all file in the same day, at the same hour, a petition for retirement, and stop working unanimously.

"And - worse than all - what you absolutely cannot do, is to replace them with your soldiers."

Some years ago the bill posters of a Parisian corporation, having had their wages cut, retaliated by increasing the paste used for their work and by adding to it a two-cent tallow candle.

This work proceeded marvellously. The placards and bills were posted in as fine and careful a way as never before. Only after two hours, when the paste dried, they fell to the ground and the whole thing had to be done over again. The boss, having at last solved the puzzle, regretted his cowardly action. To list out the thousand of methods and ways of sabotage would be an endless rosary. The shoe workers have an infinite variety of tricks;-so have the bakers. To the timber workers it cannot be difficult to use the axe so that the tree or log is split in all its length. To the painters also it must be easy to dilute or condense their colours as best they see fit. But the record of sabotage is held by the masons, who since 1906 have used it abundantly.

For instance, the case is not rare when, after a six-story building is complete, it is found out that the chimneys do not draw. They are inspected, and it is found out that they are obstructed; more or less accidentally, a trowel full of mortar has fallen in the smoke shaft.

Elsewhere another accident - some fine morning upon arriving to the yard they find a wagon load of cement or stucco abundantly sprinkled over, and so on.

Our good friends, the varnishers, next, know very well how to treat white lead with a special chemical composition so that after a few hours all sort of varnishes appear as if they had been done with lampblack.

The consequence of all this is that the wages of masons and painters have increased while the working hours have been reduced, and with them the overbearing arrogance of the bosses.

We hardly need speak at all of the methods of sabotage in the printing industry. During the last strikes, the boss printers have been sufficiently rough-handled and had ample opportunity to appraise the cost of printed matter full of errors, ink spots, uncorrected proofs, etc., of compositions upset and broken up, of full pages fallen to the ground, whole cases of types mixed up and confused, linotypes which would not run, presses seized by rheumatism and gout, and so forth

All this was the clumsy and awkward work of some supposed scabs who were none else but the strikers themselves who were scabbing for the purpose of saboting the boss into submission. Passing from the industrial to the commercial field, sabotage consists here in safeguarding the interests of the customers and clients instead of taking to heart that of the boss. For instance, in the line of alimentary merchandise, the drug clerk, butcher, grocery clerk, etc., will give the customers the right weight instead of giving to the scale the professional snap of the finger.

We could cite many more instances and means, but as we are not writing a technical treatise on sabotage, we believe it unnecessary to deal here with all the forms of sabotage - which are many and complex - that can be and often are applied by the revolting workers.

Those that we have already quoted are more than sufficient to emphasise the efficiency and mark the characteristics of sabotage.