From New World Encyclopedia

Sabotage is deliberate action taken with the purpose of weakening an enemy, oppressor, oneself, or employer through means such as obstruction, disruption, or destruction. Sabotage can occur in a variety of situations not limited to the workplace, including during wartime, or political campaigns, and even in one's personal life. In all cases, however, the purpose is the same—to inflict damage that indirectly leads to a particular goal.

Although the use of direct violence against people appears to be a more evil act, this devious form of attack may inflict equal if not more damage. Sabotage, therefore, is no act to be encouraged except under cases in which it is the lesser of the evils. Ultimately, when all people live under conditions in which their human rights are fully met, and there is prosperity and happiness for all, sabotage will become a thing of the past.


Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening an enemy, oppressor, ones self, or employer through subversion, obstruction, disruption, and/or destruction. The word "sabotage" first entered the English Language around 1912. Derived from the early Industrial Revolution, it is said that angry workers could damage looms by throwing their wooden shoes or clogs into the machinery. Another suggested etymology is that the word stems from the French verb saboter (later associated with clumsiness and then with the “purposeful destruction of machinery or equipment by factory workers,”[1] which means to make a loud clattering noise with the aforementioned shoe.

Sabotage can occur in various locations and situations including the workplace, wartime, or political campaigns.

Some extremist groups turn to destruction of property in order to quickly stop environmental destruction or to make visible arguments against different forms of technology that they consider harmful to the earth. This is known as "environmental sabotage," while sabotage in war is used to describe the activity of an individual or group unassociated with the military of the parties at war. Unlike acts of terrorism, acts of sabotage do not always have the main goal of killing anyone—rather, they are directed toward equipment.

The term "political sabotage" is sometimes used to define the acts of one political party’s actions to disrupt an opposing political party. This is most often used during electoral campaigns.

"Product sabotage" refers to the strategy used to sell more expensive items by down-playing cheaper items through the use of more colorful packaging, advertising only the more expensive items and so forth.

"Self-sabotage" refers to the ruining of ones owns plans, properties, job prospects, and relationships through destructive social or financial acts, or destructive inaction.

Types of Sabotage

Sabotage in war

In war, the word sabotage is used to describe the activity of an individual or group not associated with the military of the parties at war (such as a foreign agent or an indigenous supporter), in particular when actions result in the destruction or damaging of a productive or vital facility, such as equipment, factories, dams, public services, storage plants or logistic routes. Unlike acts of terrorism, acts of sabotage do not always have the primary objective of inflicting casualties. Saboteurs are usually classified as enemies, and like spies may be liable to prosecution and criminal penalties instead of detention as a prisoner of war.

It is common for a government in power during war, or supporters of the war, policy to use the term loosely against opponents of the war. Similarly, German nationalists spoke of a "stab in the back" having cost them the loss of World War I.[2]

Workplace sabotage

When disgruntled workers damage or destroy equipment or interfere with the smooth running of their workplace, it is called workplace sabotage. The expression "disgruntled worker" may apply to either organized or spontaneous actions, and employers have long hired security guards to prevent and detect any sort of sabotage, whatever the cause.

Radical labor unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have advocated sabotage as a means of self-defense and direct action against unfair working conditions. The first references to the terms "sabotage" and "passive resistance" appeared in the IWW press in approximately 1910. These terms were used in connection with a strike against a Chicago clothing company called Lamm & Co.,[3] and the connotation of sabotage in that job action referred to "malingering or inefficient work."[3]

The IWW was shaped in part by the industrial unionism philosophy of Big Bill Haywood. In 1910 Haywood had been exposed to sabotage while touring Europe:

The experience that had the most lasting impact on Haywood was witnessing a general strike on the French railroads. Tired of waiting for parliament to act on their demands, railroad workers walked off their jobs all across the country. The French government responded by drafting the strikers into the army and then ordering them back to work. Undaunted, the workers carried their strike to the job. Suddenly, they could not seem to do anything right. Perishables sat for weeks, sidetracked and forgotten. Freight bound for Paris was misdirected to Lyon or Marseille instead. This tactic—the French called it "sabotage"—won the strikers their demands and impressed Bill Haywood.[4]

For the IWW, sabotage came to mean any withdrawal of efficiency — including the slowdown, the strike, or creative bungling of job assignments.[4]

The extent to which the IWW actually practiced sabotage, other than through their "withdrawal of efficiency," is open to dispute.[4]IWW organizers often counseled workers to avoid any actions that would hurt their own job prospects. Even so, when the term "sabotage" is applied to workers, it is frequently interpreted to mean actual destruction.[3] There is the possibility that the IWW has employed rhetoric about the tactic more than actual practice.

Sabotage in defense of the environment

Certain groups turn to destruction of property in order to immediately stop environmental destruction or to make visible arguments against forms of modern technology considered as detrimental to the Earth and its inhabitants. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies use the term eco-terrorist when applied to damage of property. Proponents argue that since property cannot feel terror, damage to property is more accurately described as sabotage.

The image of the monkeywrench thrown into the moving parts of a machine to stop it from working was popularized by Edward Abbey in the novel The Monkeywrench Gang and was adopted by eco-activists to describe destruction of Earth-damaging machinery. The Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) became famous for such actions.[5]

Political sabotage

The term political sabotage is sometimes used to define the acts of one political camp to disrupt, harass, or damage the reputation of a political opponent, usually during an electoral campaign.

Product sabotage

In marketing and retail, product sabotage is a practice used to encourage the customer to purchase a more profitable product or service as opposed to cheaper alternatives. It is also the practice where a company attempts to aim different prices at different types of customer. There are several methods used in achieving this:

Cheap packaging

This method is commonly used in supermarkets, where their cheapest products are packaged in cheap and basic packaging. These products are normally displayed alongside the more attractively packed and expensive items, in an attempt to persuade richer customers to buy the more expensive alternative.

For example, the Tesco supermarket chain sells a "value" range of products in garish four-color (purple, orange, white, and black) packaging to make them appear unappealing and inferior to their regular brand.

Omitting products from advertisements

Not advertising the cheaper alternatives is an effective form of product sabotage. An example of this method is coffee companies, who hide or downplay their cheaper drinks in the hope that customers will buy something pricier. The customers who are not aware of lower-priced options purchase one of the more profitable items listed on the menu.

Duplicate manufacture

In the high-tech world it is common for companies to produce a high-specification product, sold at a premium price, and then sell the same product more cheaply with some of the functions disabled. IBM did this with a printer in the 1990s, where an economy version for a home user was identical to the top-of-the-range model except for a microchip in it to slow it down.[6]


Though sabotage most often refers to the ruination of others' plans or property, sabotage can also refer to actions one takes in limiting their own success. There are two types of self-sabotage: sabotaging one's success and sabotaging relationships with others. The first occurs when an individual consciously or subconsciously takes actions that hinder progress in their careers or lives. These actions include procrastination, dedication to the wrong course of action, and self-doubt.[7]

Sabotaging relationships with others is the result of a number of factors. Some fear commitment while others have become accustomed to failure and take action to maintain it in their relationships. This type of sabotage is done by actions such as infidelity, distancing oneself, and passive aggression.[8]


  1. Sabotage Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  2. “Undefeated on the battlefield - Stab-in-the-Back Legend," DokumentARFilm. Retrieved April 30, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Fred W. Thompson and Patrick Murfin, The I.WW: Its First Seventy Years, 1905-1975 (1976).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Peter Carlson, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1983, ISBN 0393302083).
  5. Henry Schuster, "Domestic terror: Who's most dangerous?" CNN. Retrieved April 30, 2007.
  6. Tim Harford, "'Product sabotage' helps consumers," BBC News (August 24, 2006). Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  7. Martha Baldwin, Self-Sabotage: How To Stop It & Soar To Success (Warner Books, 1990, ISBN 0446391085).
  8. Stanley Rosner and Patricia Hermes, The Self-Sabotage Cycle: Why We Repeat Behaviors That Create Hardships and Ruin Relationships (Praeger Publishers, 2006, ISBN 0275990036).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baldwin, Martha. 1990. Self-Sabotage: How To Stop It & Soar To Success. Warner Books. ISBN 0446391085
  • Carlson, Peter. 1984. Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood. W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393302083
  • Pouget, Emile. 1913. Le sabotage; notes et postface de Grégoire Chamayou et Mathieu Triclot. (English translation, 2001. Sabotage. University Press of the Pacific. ISBN 0898754593)
  • Rosner, Stanley and Patricia Hermes. 2006. The Self-Sabotage Cycle: Why We Repeat Behaviors That Create Hardships and Ruin Relationships. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0275990036
  • Salerno, Salvatore. 1989. Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the Industrial Workers of the World. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. ISBN 0791400883
  • Sprouse, Martin. 1992. Sabotage in the American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge. Drop Press. ISBN 0962709131
  • Thompson, Fred and Patrick Murfin. 1976. The I.WW: Its First Seventy Years, 1905-1975.


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