Some Definitions


Some Definitions
Reprinted from 'Industrial Worker', issue of August 1992, page 7

Newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Some Definitions

Direct Action: By direct action is meant any action taken by workers directly at the point of production with a view to bettering their conditions. The organization of any labor union whatever is direct action. Sending the shop committee to demand of the boss a change of shop rules is direct action. To oppose direct action is to oppose labor unionism as a whole with all its activities.

Sabotage: Sabotage means "strike and stay in the shop." Striking workers thus are enabled to draw pay and keep out scabs while fighting capitalists. Sabotage does not necessarily mean destruction of machinery or other property, although that method has been indulged in and will continue to be used as long as there is a class struggle. More often it is used to advantage in a quieter way. Excessive limitation of output is sabotage. So is any obstruction of the regular conduct of the industry. Ancient Hebrews in Egypt practiced sabotage when they spoiled the bricks. Slaves in the South practiced it regularly by putting stones and dirt in their bags of cotton to make them heavier. When the workers face a specific situation, they will very likely continue to do as their interests and intelligence dictate.

-- - Frank Bohn, IWW Solidarity, May 1912


Direct action means industrial action directly by, for, and of the workers themselves, without the treacherous aid of labor misleaders or scheming politicians. A strike that is initiated, controlled, and settled by the workers directly affected is direct action. Direct action is combined action, directly on the job to secure better job conditions. Direct action is industrial democracy.

Sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency.

The word "sabotage" has a non violent origin. It means "to work slow." In early industrial days when leather shoe wearing urban workers would go on strike the bosses would recruit scabs from the countryside where people still wore wooden shoes - sabots. When the striking workers got back on the job they would work like their country cousins - that is withdraw their voluntary efficiency and work like one not used to the pace and skill. Sabotage in French means working slow. In Britain the word was ca'canny. The French word has since become widespread, showing up in many languages to name the universal tactics of on the job resistance to the boss and profits.

The better known, but false, story of workers throwing wooden shoes into machines to break them and then standing next to the machine with one shoe on and one shoe off trying to deny the deed is simply not believeable.

During the red-scare and the criminal syndicalist (the forerunners of todays RICO laws) trials of the 1910s the union stopped using the word "sabotage." Wobblies were jailed for being union members if judge and prosecutor agreed to the fiction that the IWW practiced violence against employers. It was the employers who used (and still do) violence, but with Wobblies going to the penitentiary for passing out IWW newspapers it was unwise to use the word sabotage when other words carry the same message.

Sabotage is the only joy at work.