Journal of Industrial


Sabotage and Industrial Conflict
Don J. Turkington
JIR 1976 18: 183
DOI: 10.1177/002218567601800207
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American Journal of Sociology. 2012 . November 1954.8 per cent of man-days lost and 38. 51. These two industries account for a disproportionately large share of total New Zealand stoppage activity and for a considerable proportion of the total levels of some other conflict forms. Arthur Kornhauser. Don J. "Industrial Conflict and Its Mediation".3 per cent of stoppages by number over the decade 1964-73. Robert Dubin and Arthur M. 1964. Hawke and N. Strikes. In the case of two of the industries studied-meat freezing and building and construction-the questionnaires contained questions on industrial sabotage. 183 Downloaded from jir.D.3 per cent of all wage and salary earners yet accounted for 54. Victoria University of Wellington. J. "The Significant Factors in Industrial Conflict. Vol. and Richard Hyman. at CORNELL UNIV on May 1. Victoria University of Wellington. p. The views reported were gained as part of a broader study on industrial conflict in New Zealand with special reference to three industrieS. Hobsbawm argues that in the domestic system of manufacturing and in the early stages of the factory-era. Hobsbawm. 7. McGraw-Hill. 232. Wellington. Ross (eds). 2. Turkington.6 per cent of all workers involved in industrial stoppages. S. TURKINGTON* STUDIES which class industrial sabotage as a form of industrial convirtually none on the nature and extent of sabotage as perceived by the parties in industrial relations. 1975. "The Machine Breakers". thesis. in his Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour. Industrial Conflict. pp.a traditional and established part of industrial conflict&dquo. Clark Kerr.3 The broader study sought to outline the conflict patterns of these industries and of the waterfront industry and to evaluate possible influences on them.1 per cent of all industrial accidents and for about 25 per cent of calendar days lost due to accidents. in the form of machine-breaking. E. 102- 103. sabotage. 14. p.Sabotage and Industrial Conflict DON J. 4. New Zealand. New York.l yet there * are Lecturer in the Industrial Relations Centre. was &dquo. London. The meat freezing and building and construction industries employ only 9. London. LX. See.sagepub. The contents of this note are largely not covered in the thesis. 1954.2 Among the main methods of gaining information were visits and interviews. Thanks 1. and questionnaires. 1972. Over the years 1968-70 they accounted for 26.. Do the parties see sabotage as a sign of industrial conflict? Do they consider that acts of sabotage are common or uncommon? Is sabotage generally individual or organized in character? It is to such questions that this note is addressed. Fontana. Ph. 3. are due to G.4 Do participants in two contemporary conflict-prone industries regard sabotage as part of industrial conflict? Management and union representatives at the plant level (meat freezing) and contract level (building and construction) were asked in the questionnaires to what extent they considered sabotage to be a sign of industrial ABOUND flict. Woods for helpful comments made during the preparation of this note. with Special Reference to Three New Zealand Industries". Weidenfeld and Nicolson. R. for example.

2012 . but in building and construction responses from the same contract were different in nine of 11cases. In the case of meat freezing. In meat freezing. responses of management and union from a given plant were identical in four of seven cases. The HIGH to NOT AT ALL categories are those of the building and construction questionnaires. it being left to the respondent to interpret them. 2. TABLE 1 THE EXTENT TO WHICH SABOTAGE IS CONSIDERED A SIGN OF INDUSTRIAL UNREST OR DISCONTENT Notes : 1. Respondents in the OTHER category indicated that sabotage "signifies unrest of the individual only". Downloaded from jir. however. In the case of at CORNELL UNIV on May 1. There was nothing in the responses to suggest that the use of the terms "industrial unrest" and "industrial discontent" in any way influenced the results. It is interesting to compare management and union responses from the same plant or contract. those in the construction industry tended to identify sabotage more closely with unrest or discontent than did their freezing industry counter- unrest It can (meat freezing) be seen parts. unions tended to associate sabotage less strongly with unrest or discontent than did managements. Among managements. In both industries. it was felt that the sense of this question would be clearer in that industry if "discontent" were used instead of "unrest". this question was openended and the answers were coded into this classification by the author. The investigation of the building and construction industry was confined to very large projects. Response rates for the meat freezing questionnaires were 71 per cent for managements and 47 per cent for unions. 5. 5 from Table 1 that there was a variety of perceptions within each category of respondent. 3. Such a discrepancy in the degree of conformity of local management and union responses between the two industries was unusual in the broader study and may reflect the difference in the identifiability of sabotage which is discussed later. While all efforts were made to use words which would convey a meaning the same as that given by students of industrial relations to the term "industrial conflict" neither these nor other words were defined.184 or industrial discontent (building and construction). Those for the building and construction questionnaires were 100 per cent for managements and about 60 per cent for unions (although responses from at least one union on site were received from 13 of the 14 major contracts then in existence). The questionnaires were developed in consultation with representatives of managements and unions.sagepub.

especially pp. If sabotage is seen as irrational. That construction unions did not see a significantly stronger relationship between sabotage and unrest or discontent than meat industry unions may be due to factors already noted.industrial relations are such (here) that workers do not need to descend to sabotage to draw attention to their grievances&dquo." 7.. The assembly-line character of meat industry production makes it difficult to distinguish machinery breakdowns resulting from sabotage from those due to other causes.sagepub. such occurrences as sugar in petrol or interference with welding machines could hardly be ascribed to accident. They would do the same if employed in Disneyland. 222-223). It takes the form of sugar in petrol and in water.~ One said it is &dquo. Downloaded from jir. or &dquo. While the cause of many acts of damage on a construction site will clearly be difhcult to identify. The causes of damage to carcasses are also difficult to distinguish.conscious action or inaction&dquo. and the &dquo. or that & workers are men and do not sabotage&dquo. unsanctioned and managements. For a discussion of the relationship between sabotage and "irrational" behaviour see Laurie Taylor and Paul Walton. or &dquo. (This tendency was also evident among freezing works Several unions said &dquo. 223-225.mindlessness& has not happened here&dquo. England.. &dquo. Numerous unions which said sabotage is not generally a sign of unrest or discontent commented in explanation along the lines that &dquo. and another that &dquo.) ’ 6. &dquo. Some union respondents equated sabotage not with conflict but with &dquo.multilation or destruction of the work environment&dquo.slides. cit. is more frequently the obvious result of &dquo..usually mental&dquo.. union representatives clearly did not sanction the use of sabotage.. of a man’s welding machine being continually turned off or damaged.sabotage tends to come to the fore when there is unrest on the site.union does not condone sabotage-instant dismissal&dquo. 2012 . &dquo. There was a strong tendency to cite the local experience. Images of Deviance. On the theme of the relationship between sabotage and deviant behaviour which occurs outside the workplace (see ibid...irrationality&dquo.).we have not experienced sabotage&dquo. 1971..185 Reasons why managements generally saw a stronger association between sabotage and unrest or discontent than did unions were suggested by other questionnaire workers just do not do it&dquo.only minor acts (are) committed. pp.the nature of many breakdowns could be either an accident or an act of sabotage&dquo. &dquo.. knives and similar articles getting into pre-breakers could be sabotage but just as easily accidental&dquo. Moreover. 219). Penguin. more in the nature of stupidity than actual industrial sabotage&dquo. or of fibreglass mouldings being damaged&dquo. one meat industry management said "vandal types can vent their emotion everywhere and the fact that they would in a works (or plant) is purely related to them being employed. The tendency of construction managements to see a stronger association between sabotage and unrest or discontent than their counterparts in the meat industry might partly be explained by the more identifiable nature of sabotage in building and construction.7 As one industrial relations manager said during an interview. Harmondsworth. "Industrial Sabotage: Motives and Meanings".com at CORNELL UNIV on May 1. op. on the other hand. p. Several meat industry management respondents indicated that &dquo.. in Stanley Cohen (ed.. Conscious action or inaction resulting in the mutilation or destruction of the work environment is the essence of Taylor and Walton’s definition of industrial sabotage (see Taylor and Walton. in the course of an answer that sabotage was not a sign of unrest or discontent. In construction.. considering it an illegitimate tactic in a conflict.

many union rewent further in commenting that &dquo. Unions were unanimously of the view that acts were uncommon. most said it was either non-existent or at a low level. Many interviewees did not mention sabotage as a factor in the local conflict situation and. Only one management indicated that &dquo.high&dquo...186 illegitimate. it is not surprising that even in this industry it was frequently not considered a sign of industrial discontent. in New project Zealand&dquo.I have never seen it (sabotage) locally such spondents or &dquo. of those that at CORNELL UNIV on May 1. (whose summary dismissal was approved by the union).there has been a lot of sabotage here&dquo.we have been free of sabotage&dquo. acts TABLE 2 THE PERCEIVED FREQUENCY OF ACTS OF SABOTAGE AT THE LOCAL WORKS OR SITE Material gained from interviews was consistent with the view that acts of are infrequent.. or &dquo. Moreover. or for that matter interviews.. It can be seen from Table 2 that opinions on the frequency of acts of sabotage at the local plant or site were uniform both within a category of respondent and between categories. requests for interviews were invariably granted and matters relevant to the local conflict situation were sabotage Downloaded from jir. The problems involved in gaining information through questionnaires.medium&dquo. It must be remembered that an observation that acts of sabotage are uncommon may at least partly reflect the difficulty of identification. Thus one of these respondents said.sagepub. With a subject such as sabotage the possibilities for misinterpretation or falsification may be even greater than normal. Several questionnaire respondents indicated this was so in their cases.. 2012 . Questionnaire responses gave no indication that respondents misinterpreted the questions on sabotage to an unusual degree or that they were concealing or distorting information more than in respect of other questions.if sabotage was present in New Zealand it would show a very high rate of discontent among workers&dquo. In only one instance in each industry were management and union responses from the same plant or contract different. Even the construction unions which saw an association between sabotage and discontent in the abstract also noted that cases of it locally were very infrequent or non-existent. All but one of the managements which said such acts were fairly common also saw the extent to which sabotage is a sign of unrest or discontent as &dquo.. &dquo.I have seen only one such case done by a member of my union&dquo. are too well known to need repeating here. As previously indicated. but &dquo. But it is difficult to substantiate this in the case of the present my part of (the) of this nature have been nil&dquo. &dquo.

acts of sabotage are usually by odd individuals who feel they have a gripe but never sanctioned or organised by a group&dquo. While the other three categories of respondent were not asked this particular question. In any event. Sabotage is conflict-prone 8. Construction managements were asked in the questionnaire: &dquo. where it has occurred. Again. so there is little alternative to questionnaires or interviews. seen by most management and all union respondents in two New Zealand industries to be uncommon and. Less uniformity was apparent in views on the extent to which sabotage is a sign of industrial unrest or discontent. by a management representative during the prepara- Downloaded from jir. to be individual rather than organized in character. or that sabotage is & at CORNELL UNIV on May 1.. This question was suggested tion of the questionnaire.8 All nine respondents chose the former characteristic. it is clear from comments made that the tendency to associate sabotage with individual action was widespread in these industries. in your opinion has it largely been individual or organised?&dquo.associated with an individual or small group airing their own personal grievances rather than a concerted effort to upset things industrial relations wise&dquo. although managements as a whole saw the association to be stronger than did unions. That sabotage is in reality not largely employed in a collective way by workers is suggested by the fact that managements also considered it to be individual in freely discussed.If any sabotage has occurred on your part of this project. The tendency of union representatives to assign acts of sabotage to individuals was to be expected in light of their previously noted opinion that sabotage is an illegitimate and unsanctioned tactic in industrial conflict. the nature of sabotage ironically makes it almost impossible to draw implications from observed behaviour. The view was frequently expressed that &dquo.sagepub.187 did not appear to be treated by interviewees different from other topics. sabotage in a manner character. 2012 .