The French wooden shoe or clog (sabot) was, in the 18th and 19th century, associated with the lower classes. During this period, the years of the Industrial Revolution, the word sabotage gained currency. Allegedly derived from sabot, sabotage described the actions of disgruntled workers who willfully damaged workplace machinery by throwing their sabots into the works. However, according to some accounts, sabot-clad workers were simply considered less productive than others who had switched to leather shoes, roughly equating the term "sabotage" with "inefficiency".
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. As a rule, saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions. For example, whereas an environmental pressure group might be happy to be identified with an act of sabotage, it would not want the individual identities of the perpetrators known.
As workplace action
When disgruntled workers damage or destroy equipment or interfere with the smooth running of a workplace, it is called workplace sabotage. This can be as part of an organized group activity, or the action of one or a few workers in response to personal grievances. In general, workplace sabotage takes the form of deliberate and prolonged inefficiency by the saboteurs. Alternatively there may be repeated "accidents" which cause damage/delays to equipment, supplies or processes. Whether it is hand-tools or documents which go missing, the intended effect is the same. The only real limit to workplace sabotage is the imagination of the saboteurs.
Luddites and 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 IWW was shaped in part by the industrial unionism philosophy of Big Bill Haywood, and in 1910 Haywood was 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."
For the IWW, sabotage came to mean any withdrawal of efficiency — including the slowdown, the strike, or creative bungling of job assignments.