Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Organized labour in science fiction

Organized labour in science fiction

Additional suggestions are welcome.
This list is to supplement our blog posts on labour in SF: part onepart twopart three

Terminology:
Business union” is defined as an organization that is legally certified by the government to negotiate on behalf of a group of workers.
Solidarity union” is defined as a group of workers organizing themselves on a grassroots basis to seek concessions from an employer.
Guild union” is defined as a group of workers whose labour negotiating ability stems from their near-monopoly on a particular set of skills.

“Primary depiction” is defined as union activity being the focus of the story. These are stories in which organizing workers or workers asserting their rights is crucial to the events depicted.
“Secondary depiction” is defined as union activity being important to the story, but not the primary focus. This is often an important plot point.
“Tertiary depiction” is defined as anything that is not substantive. This can range from a one-sentence reference, to a piece of world-building that is not crucial to the plot.

(Note: This list excludes inherently criminal organizations such as the Assassin's Guild from Discworld, the Guild of Thieves from Robert Silberberg and Randall Garrett's A Little Intelligence or the Traitor's Guild from James Blish's A Style in Treason.)
Year
Title / Author
Union Model
Qualitative Depiction
Extent of depiction
1940
Robbie - Isaac Asimov
Business union
(Manufacturing)
Negative depiction - Antagonistic to progress.
Secondary
1940
The Roads Must Roll - Robert A. Heinlein
Business union (Transportation)
Negative depiction - strike must be quashed violently.
Primary
1951
The Man In The White Suit - Ealing Studios
Business union
(Textiles)
Negative depiction - Antagonistic to progress.
Primary
1951
The Traders (Foundation) - Isaac Asimov
Guild union
(Atomic engineers)
Negative depiction - Nepotistic and anti-intellectual.
Secondary
1951
Day Of The Moron - H. Beam Piper
Business union
(Atomic engineers)
Negative depiction - Protects unqualified workers. Bureaucratic and obstructionist.  
Primary
1952
The Space Merchants - Frederick Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth
Business union (Agricultural)
Negative depiction - Labour union exploits worker.
Secondary
1952
The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
Business union
(Unspecified)
Negative depiction - Corrupt union leadership.    
Tertiary
1957
Strikebreaker - Isaac Asimov
Solidarity union (Waste processing)
Negative depiction - Strike threatens survival of colony.
Primary
1960
The Apprentice - James White
Business union
(Department store)
Positive depiction - Employee has job protection
Secondary
1964
Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick
Business union
(Plumbing)
Negative depiction - Corrupt union leadership.
Secondary
1966
A Relic Of Empire - Larry Niven
General statement about unions.
Positive depiction - Described as ‘necessary.’
Tertiary
1978
Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Guild Union
(Philosophers)
Negative depiction - Antagonistic towards progress, interested primarily in “gravy train.”
Tertiary
1979
The Kilohertz War - Alien Worlds
Business Union (Technicians)
Negative depiction – complaints about union striking.
Tertiary
1987
Robocop - Paul Verhoeven
Business Union
(Police)
Negative depiction - Heroic characters cross picket line. Quote: "Police officers don't strike."
Primary
1989
Orbital Decay - Allen Steele
Business Union (Construction)
Positive depiction - Union   helps ensure safer workplace.
Primary
1992
Heavy Time - CJ Cherryh
Business union (Mining)
Negative depiction - employer-dominated union.
Primary
1994
By Any Means Necessary - Babylon 5
Business union
(Dockworkers)
Mixed depiction - Striking workers are violent, but achieve fairer wages.
Primary
1996
Night Sky Mine - Melissa Scott
Business union
(Mining)
Positive depiction - Ensures equitable wages.
Secondary
1996
Bar Association - Deep Space Nine
Solidarity union
(Service industry)
Mixed depiction - Achieves fairer wages, but must be disbanded because it’s “no longer needed.”
Primary
2000
1632 - Eric Flint
Business union
(Mine workers)
Positive depiction - Organizing prosperous economy.
Secondary
2000
Candle - John Barnes
Guild union
(Combat)
Positive depiction - Union   provides health, dental and legal coverage.
Secondary
2000
Company Man - Robert Jackson Bennett
Solidarity union
(General)
Positive depiction - Union   works to combat inequality.
Secondary
2000
Cosmonaut Keep - Ken MacLeod
Solidarity union
(Online workers)
Positive depiction - Balances power of capital.
Secondary
2000
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
Business union
(Dock workers)
Positive depiction - Unions provide counterbalance to strength of capital.
Secondary
2005
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
Business union
(Mining workers)
Negative depiction – Striking workers on the news portrayed as violent.  
Tertiary
2007
Dirty Hands - Battlestar Galactica
Solidarity union
(Mining workers)
Negative depiction - Heroic governor bargains in bad faith by holding gun to the head of a worker. 
Primary
2009
The Wind-Up Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
Guild Union
(Animal handlers)
Negative depiction - antagonism towards entrepreneur protagonist.
Secondary
2010
For The Win - Cory Doctorow
Solidarity union
(Online workers)
Positive depiction - ensuring workers’ rights.
Primary
2010
Damage Time - Colin Harvey
Guild Union
(Sex trade workers)
Negative depiction - Union excludes vulnerable population.
Secondary
2011
Contagion (movie)
Business Union
(Nursing)
Negative depiction - Union rules prevent adequate health care for major character.
Secondary
2012
Existence - David Brin
Business Union
(Child care workers)
Positive depiction - Union is part of positive and functional workplace.
Tertiary
2013
Fortune’s Pawn - Rachel Back
Business Union
(Merchants)
Positive depiction - Union   provides information to employees.
Tertiary
2014
Climbing the Date Palm – Shira Glassman
Business Union
(Construction)
Positive depiction – Union fights against wage theft.
Primary
2014
Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
Solidarity Union
(Agricultural)
Positive depiction – Union fights against indentured servitude in tea production operation.
Tertiary
2015
Windswept - Adam Rakunas
Business union
(Manufacturing)
Positive depiction - ensuring fair wages.
Primary
2015
All The Childhood You Can Afford - Daniel Suarez
Business union
(Manufacturing)
Positive depiction - Ensures gains of automation are shared more equitably.
Secondary
2016
Business union
(Sex trade workers)
Positive depiction - Ensures workers’ safety and rights.
Secondary
2017
Another Girl, Another Planet - Lou Antonelli
Business union
(Duct workers)
Positive depiction - Ensures safety standards in construction.
Secondary
2017
Hunger Makes the Wolf - Alex Wells
Business union
(Mining workers)
Positive depiction – Unionization drive is response to corporate exploitation.
Primary
2017
Quirks – Marie Vibbert
Business union
(Carpenters)
Mixed depiction – Union uses memory uploads to share skills.
Primary
2018
Sorry To Bother You - Boots Riley
Business union
(Telemarketing)
Positive depiction - Balances power of capital.
Primary
2018
Unfulfilled/Bike Parade - South Park
Solidarity union
(Warehouse workers)
Positive depiction - Union   fights for safety standards and fair pay.
Primary
2019
Multiple unions

Industrial Workers Of The World,

United Steelworkers

and

The Carpenters’ Union
Positive depiction – Unions are depicted as allies in the struggle for women’s rights.

Steelworkers achieve fairer overtime compensation for workers. 
Secondary
2019
Closed Shop – Kevin J. Phyland
Solidarity union
(Artificial Inteligence)
Positive depiction - Union fights for fair wages and public good.
Primary

4 comments:

  1. I remembered one mention, towards the beginning of "The Kilohertz War," which starts ~24 minutes into part 4 of this War of the Worlds marathon special. Definitely negative, grousing about the technicians' union striking again.
    http://clearingthestatic.blogspot.com/2016/10/special-war-of-worlds-marathon-radio.html

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    Replies
    1. That's a great find! Thank you! I will add this!

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  2. Perdido Street Station: There's a typo in the title. Also, the description seems odd to me: "Mixed depiction - Crushing of strike provides background for story." Mixed how? Because the workers don't ultimately prevail? I mean... if that's your standard, then the actual non-fictional history of the world is also a negative depiction of labor, because these struggles do not always prevail, and virtually never do when the government is willing to use violence on behalf of management. MiƩville is entirely on the workers' side, and he makes a point of showing that the strike is very effective - that's why the government is so afraid of it.

    (The only other "mixed" aspect I can think of is that there's a brief mention of a different union refusing to support the strike, possibly for racial reasons. But again, that is how things sometimes happen in the world, and MiƩville does not depict it as an insurmountable obstacle; many of those people do eventually come around.)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the feedback. I will edit the list accordingly in the morning.

      Delete