Jim Kouri
Sabotage: Labor's weapon of choice and opportunity?
By Jim Kouri
April 28, 2011

"Violence is a tactic, and it's to be used when it's the appropriate tactic."

"[Labor leaders and workers] couldn't get access to strike, but they had a lot of cats, and they succeeded in putting cats in powerhouses," she said. "And the cats — now, don't think about the cats, OK? The cats would run around inside and short out the system and cause power blackouts. And that created enough chaos in the system" to get to "a negotiating position. Plus,they got rid of a lot of feral cats (Laughter)."

- Judy Ancel, director of UM-Kansas City's Institute for Labor Studies at Columbia University, NYC

Radical activist groups and labor unions associated with President Barack Obama have launched a campaign of economic sabotage. Mortgage and student loan strikes, crippling bank boycotts, intimidation, and who knows what else are all on the agenda. Unfortunately at times the sabotage takes the form of violence using explosives or arson to destroy "evil capitalism."

The idea of leftist labor leaders using sabotage to achieve their objectives isn't new. Leon Trotsky supported the use of sabotage and terrorism to advance so-called social justice. Decades before an ice-axe found its way into his skull, Trotsky argued in Dictatorship vs. Democracy that Communists who reject "terrorism in principle" weren't bona fide Communists.

Sabotage, like any other weapon, offers its user an amplification and extension of his own strength, both to harm others and defend himself. Sabotage has the additional appeal of destroying much evidence of itself, and is usually hard to prove.

Sabotage offers the indigenous malcontent or the alien subversive the widest selection of targets, the greatest opportunities for conversion, and the most efficient results of any weapon available to him. The saboteur need not be thought of as a wild-eyed, shabbily-dressed foreigner out to bomb buildings. The man who hesitates shooting a competitor might have no qualms about burning that man's place of business. Moreover, sabotage motivated by political or military objectives is usually planned only after the target has been assessed through industrial espionage and a detailed picture of vulnerabilities is obtained.

A saboteur may be anyone in an organization of the target industry, from a janitor in the machine shop to an administrative assistant in the executive suite, or even a top executive himself. He may work alone or be part of a well-organized group. Money may be his motive — money from a foreign power, from unscrupulous business competitors, even money from a union trying to break into the plant or industry, or to incite a strike.

Hatred or bitterness, arising from personal or business grievances may move the saboteur. As in the case of espionage, blackmail and threats (especially in the case of those with relatives in unfriendly foreign nations) can urge the saboteur on.

Sabotage is often a handy way of hiding other crimes, especially for the thief or embezzler. During times of labor unrest, the danger of casual sabotage is increased because of the tension such a situation induces in all participants. Insurance companies have records of people burning their own factories to collect money. There are even some who are mentally ill — called pyromaniacs — who get the same kick out of setting fires that sex offenders get out of their acts of sexual assault and rape. Any of these people may be considered a saboteur.


There is a definite connection between corporate espionage and sabotage. Good espionage makes sabotage more effective by determining the factory or buildings involved, the processes of production, and the raw materials involved — many of which can be be used in sabotage, especially flammable materials and explosives. Sabotage is a very inexpensive weapon when coupled with good espionage and intelligence, at least in terms of equipment and supplies.

As a military weapon, sabotage is almost more effective in repeated, small doses than in massive efforts, especially when the small incidents are disguised as accidents. This is also true in industrial infighting. It is easier to determine sabotage in cases of massive explosions than in cases of small attacks.

Police and security experts claim there are basically two types of sabotage aimed at disrupting industrial production: anti-personnel and anti-property. Anti-personnel methods include creating conditions which are dangerous to workers. At times, saboteurs may tamper with safety devices and equipment; or they may pollute or infect water and food supplies. Anti-property methods target the physical plant and equipment. The goal is to cripple production.

Both methods of sabotage require targets, and saboteurs usually choose their targets with two things in mind: objective and means. The ultimate objective is usually complete destruction of a facility or organi- zation. The means to accomplish this destruction are myriad, including fire and explosives. The most attractive targets for saboteurs are those able to destroy themselves like gasoline tanks, ammunition dumps, flammable materials, and dangerous gases. Fire and explosives have the added advantage of destroying any evidence left by a saboteur and his accomplices.


In most jurisdictions, police detectives will investigate possible sabotage if and when they are notified by fire marshals who investigate causes of explosions and fires. If the marshal suspects arson or sabotage, she will notify police detectives of her determination. Once classified an intentional act, the investigation moves from the fire department or emergency services department to the police department. The larger police agencies have trained arson and explosion detectives (this writer's uncle was assigned to arson and explosion in the New York Police Department).

The fire marshals turn over physical evidence to the police along with their written reports. The police, in turn, begin their manhunt. Are there occasional jurisdictional conflicts between police and fire investigators? You bet! But most cases will find cooperation between members of these agencies.

In sabotage cases, the detectives will first look at the motive for the destruction. Were there disgruntled employees? Did the facilities management receive threatening phone calls, notes, or e-mail? Was the crime the act of a professional or the handiwork of a rank amateur? Who has access to the facility after hours? Are there security logs and access control procedures in place? Remember the three elements to any crime: Motive, Means and Opportunity.

© Jim Kouri


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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)


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