Zabalaza Books AgitProp Series #11
Knowledge is the key to be free!
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Knowledge is the key to be free!
All of the tactics discussed in this pamphlet depend fortheir success on solidarity, on the co-ordinated actions ofa large number of workers. Individual acts of sabotageoffer little more than a fleeting sense of revenge, whichmay admittedly be all that keeps you sane on a bad dayat work. But for a real feeling of collective empowerment,theres nothing quite like direct action by a large numberof angry workers to make your day.
How to FireYour Boss
A W o r k e r s G u i d e to Direct Action
THE INDIGNITY OF WORKINGFOR A LIVING is well known toanyone who ever has. Democracy, thegreat principle on which our society issupposedly founded, is thrown outthe window as soon as we punch thetime clock at work.
With no say over what we produce,or how that production is organised,and with only a small portion of thatproducts value finding its way intoour paycheques, we have every rightto be pissed off at our bosses.
Ultimately, of course, we need tocreate a society in which working peo-ple make all the decisions about theproduction and distribution of goodsand services. Harmful or uselessindustries, such as arms and chemi-cal manufacturing, or the bankingand insurance scams, would be elimi-nated. The real essentials, like food,shelter, and clothing, could be pro-duced by everyone working just a fewhours each week.
In the meantime, however, we needto develop strategies that both buildtowards this society AND fight theday-to-day drudgery of todays wage-slavery.
We believe that direct action in theworkplace is the key to achieving boththese goals. But what do we mean bydirect action?
Direct action is any form of actionthat we take directly and collectively,and that cripples the bosses ability tomake a profit and makes him/hercave in to our demands. The best-known form of direct action is thestrike, in which we simply walk offour jobs and refuse to produce profitsfor the boss until we get what wewant. This is the preferred tactic of
many unions, since this action is
easily controllable (in other words,stoppable), but is one of the leasteffective ways of confronting the boss.
The bosses, with their large finan-cial reserves, are better able to with-stand a long drawn-out strike thanwe are. In many cases, strike fundsare non-existent or not sufficient.And worst of all, a long walk-out onlygives the boss a chance to replacestriking workers with a scab (replace-ment) workforce.
We are far more effective when wetake direct action while still on thejob. By deliberately reducing the bossprofits while still continuing to collectwages; we can cripple the boss with-out giving some scab the opportunityto take our jobs.
Direct action, by definition, meansthose tactics we can undertake our-selves, without the help of govern-ment agencies, union bureaucrats, orhigh-priced lawyers. Running to thelabour court for help may be useful insome cases, but it is NOT a form ofdirect action.
What follows are some of the mostpopular forms of direct action thatworkers have used to get what theywanted. Yet nearly every one of thesetactics is, technically speaking, ille-gal. Every major victory won bylabour over the years was achievedwith militant direct actions thatwere, in their time, illegal and sub-ject to police repression. In theUnited States, for example, up untilthe 1930s the laws surroundinglabour unions were simple therewere none.
Most courts held labour unions tobe illegal conspiracies that damagefree trade, and strikers were oftenbeaten and shot by police, state mili-
into the lift to take it upstairs. Themanager found them just as they gotit into the lift, and, though he turnedred at this open disobedience; henever mentioned the incident tothem. The space where the press hadbeen was converted to an employeelounge, with several chairs and amagazine rack.
Monkey-wrenching is the generalterm for a whole host of tricks, devil-try, and assorted nastiness that canremind the boss how much they needthe workers (and how little we needthem). While all these monkey-wrenching tactics are non-violent,most of them are major social no-nos.They should be used only in the mostheated battles, where it is openwholesale class warfare between theworkers and the bosses.
Disrupting magnetically-storedinformation (such as cassette tapes,and poorly-shielded hard drives) canbe done by exposing them to a strongmagnetic field. Of course, it would bejust as simple to misplace the discsand tapes that contain vital informa-tion. Restaurant workers can buy abunch of live crickets or mice at thenearest pet shop, and liberate themin a convenient place. For biggerlaughs, give the Health Inspectors ananonymous tip.
One thing that always haunts astrike call is the question of scabs andstrike-breakers. In a railroad strikein 1886, strikers who took souvenirsfrom work home with them solved thescab problem. Oddly enough, thetrains wouldnt run without thesesmall, crucial pieces, and the scabsfound themselves with nothing to do.Of course, nowadays, it may be saferfor workers to simply hide thesepieces in a secure place at the jobsite,rather than trying to smuggle themout of the plant.
Use the bosss letterhead to order aton of unwanted office supplies andhave it delivered to the office. If yourcompany has a 0800 number, have allyour friends jam the phone lines withangry calls about the current situa-tion. Be creative with your use ofsuperglue... the possibilities are end-less.
The best weapon is, of course,organisation. If one worker stands upand protests, the bosses will squashthem like a bug. Squashed bugs areobviously of little use to their fami-lies, friends, and social movements ingeneral. But if we all stand up togeth-er, the boss will have no choice but totake us seriously. They can fire anyindividual worker who makes a fuss,but they might find it difficult to firethe entire workforce.
cuts and substitutions that go intocreating the food being served tothem. Just as Work to Rule puts anend to the usual relaxation of stan-dards, Whistle Blowing reveals it forall to know.
The Sick-In is a good way to strikewithout striking. The idea is to crip-ple your workplace by having all ormost of the workers call in sick on thesame day or days. Unlike the formalwalkout, it can be used effectively bysingle departments and work areas,and can often be successfully usedeven without a formal union organi-sation. It is the traditional method ofdirect action for public employeeunions, which are legally preventedfrom striking in a lot of regions.
At a New England, USA, mentalhospital, just the thought of a Sick-Ingot results. A shop steward, talkingto a supervisor about a fired unionmember, casually mentioned thatthere was a lot of flu going around,and wouldnt it be too bad if therewerent enough healthy people tostaff the wards. At the same time completely by coincidence, of course dozens of people were calling the per-sonnel office to see how much sicktime they had left. The supervisor gotthe message, and the union memberwas rehired.
Dual Power(Ignoring the Boss)
The best way to get something doneis to simply organise and do it our-
selves. Rather than wait for the bossto give in to our demands and insti-tute long-sought change, we oftenhave the power to make thosechanges on our own, without thebosss approval.
The owner of a San Francisco coffee-house was a poor money manager,and one week the paycheques didntarrive. The manager kept assuringthe workers that the cheques would becoming soon, but eventually the work-ers took things into their own hands.They began to pay themselves on aday-to-day basis straight out of thecash register, leaving receipts for theamounts advanced so that everythingwas out in the open. An uproar fromthe boss followed, but the chequesalways arrived on time after that.
In a small printing shop in SanFranciscos financial district, an oldworn-out offset press was finallyremoved from service and pushed tothe side of the pressroom. It wasreplaced with a brand new machine,and the manager stated his intentionto use the old press for envelopesonly. It began to be cannibalised forspare parts by the press operators,though, just to keep some of the otherpresses running. Soon enough, it wasobvious to everyone but the managerthat this press would never see serv-ice again.
The printers asked the manager tomove it upstairs to the storage room,since by now it only took up valuablespace in an already crowded press-room.
He ummed and awwed and neverseemed to get around to it. Finally,one afternoon after the printers hadpunched out for the day; they got amoving dolly and wrestled the press
tia and private security goons.The legal right of workers to organ-
ise is now officially recognised by law,yet so many restrictions exist thateffective action is as difficult as ever.For this reason, any worker thinkingabout direct action on the job bypassing the legal system and hit-ting the boss where they are weakest should be fully aware of labour law,how it is applied, and how it may beused against labour activists.
At the same time, we must realisethat the struggle between the bossesand us is not a soccer match it iswar. Under these circumstances, wemust use what works, whether thebosses (and their courts) like it or not.
Here, then, are the most usefulforms of direct action.
The slowdown has a long and hon-ourable history. In 1899, the organ-ised dockworkers of Glasgow,Scotland, demanded a 10% increasein wages, but were met with refusalby the bosses and went on strike.Strike-breakers were brought in fromamong the agricultural workers, andthe Dockers had to acknowledgedefeat and return to work under theold wages. But before they went backto work, they heard this from the sec-retary of their union:
You are going back to work at the oldwage. The employers have repeatedtime and again that they were delight-ed with the work of the agriculturallabourers who have taken our placefor several weeks during the strike.But we have seen them at work. We
have seen that they could not evenwalk a vessel and that they droppedhalf the merchandise they carried; inshort, that two of them could hardlydo the work of one of us. Nevertheless,the employers have declared them-selves enchanted with the work ofthese fellows. Well, then, there is noth-ing for us to do but the same. Work asthe agricultural labourers worked.
This order was obeyed to the letter.After a few days the contractors sentfor the union secretary and beggedhim to tell the dockworkers to workas before, and that they were willingto grant the 10% pay increase.
At the turn of the century, a gang ofsection men working on a railroad inIndiana, USA, were notified of a cut intheir wages. The workers immediate-ly took their shovels to the blacksmithshop and cut two inches from thescoops. Returning to work they toldthe boss short pay, short shovels.
Or imagine this. Train operators inAustralia are allowed to ask for 10-501s (toilet breaks) anywhere alongthe mainline and Central Controlcannot say no. In reality, this rarelyhappens. But what would manage-ment do if suddenly every train oper-ator began taking extended 10-501son each trip they made?
Work to Rule
Almost every job is covered by amaze of rules, regulations, standingorders, and so on, many of them com-pletely unworkable and generallyignored.
Workers often violate orders, resortto our own ways of doing things,
and disregard lines of authority sim-ply to meet the goals of the company.There is often an unspoken under-standing, even by the managers whosejob it is to enforce the rules, that theseshortcuts must be taken in order tomeet production quotas on time.
But what would happen if each ofthese rules and regulations were fol-lowed to the letter? Confusion wouldresult production and morale wouldfall. And best of all, we cant get intotrouble with the tactic because we are,after all, just following the rules.
Under nationalisation, French rail-road strikes were forbidden.Nonetheless, railroad workers foundother ways of expressing their griev-ances. One French law requires theengineer to make sure of the safety ofany bridge over which the train mustpass. If, after a personal examina-tion, they are still doubtful, then theymust consult other members of thetrain crew. Of course, every bridgewas so inspected, every crew was soconsulted, and none of the trains ranon time.
In order to get certain demandswithout losing their jobs, theAustrian postal workers strictlyobserved the rule that all mail mustbe weighed to see if the properpostage had been stuck on. Before,they had passed without weighing allthose letters and parcels that wereclearly underweight, thus living up tothe spirit of the regulation but not toits exact wording. By taking each sep-arate piece of mail to the scales, care-fully weighing it, and then returningit to its proper place, the postal work-ers had the office full with unweighedmail on the second day.
Good Work Strike
One of the biggest problems forservice industry workers is that manyforms of direct action, such asSlowdowns, end up hurting the con-sumer (mostly fellow workers) morethan the boss. One way around this isto provide a better or cheaper service at the boss expense, of course.
Workers at Mercy Hospital inFrance, who were afraid that patientswould go untreated if they went onstrike, instead refused to file thebilling slips for drugs, lab tests, treat-ments, and therapy. As a result, thepatients got better care (since timewas being spent caring for theminstead of doing paperwork), for free.The hospitals income was cut in half,and panic-stricken administratorsgave in to all the workers demandsafter three days.
In 1968, bus and train workers inLisbon, Spain, gave free rides to allpassengers to protest a denial of wageincreases. Conductors and driversarrived for work as usual, but theconductors did not pick up theirmoney satchels. Needless to say, pub-lic support was solidly behind thesetake-no-fare strikers.
In New York City, USA, IWWrestaurant workers, after losing astrike, won some of their demands bytaking the advice of IWW organisersto pile up the plates, give em doublehelpings, and figure cheques on thelow side.
A strike doesnt have to be long tobe effective. Timed and executedright, a strike can be won in minutes.
Such strikes are sit-downs wheneveryone just stops work and sitstight, or mass grievances wheneverybody leaves work to go to thebosss office to complain about some-thing of importance.
The Detroit (USA) IWW used theSit-down to good effect at the HudsonMotor Car Company between 1932and 1934. Sit down and watch yourpay go up was the message thatrolled down the assembly line onstickers that had been stuck on piecesof work. The steady practice of thesit-down raised wages 100% (from$.75 an hour to $1,50) in the middleof a depression.