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

1938

The Toys Go On Strike – Enid Byton

[Children’s Book]

Solidarity union (Toys)

Positive depiction – Union stands up to mistreatment of workers.

Primary

1940

Robbie - Isaac Asimov

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Manufacturing)

Negative depiction - Antagonistic to progress.

Secondary

1940

The Roads Must Roll - Robert A. Heinlein

 

[Short Story]

Business union (Transportation)

Negative depiction - strike must be quashed violently.

Primary

1951

The Man In The White Suit - Ealing Studios

 

[Movie]

Business union
(Textiles)

Negative depiction - Antagonistic to progress.

Primary

1951

The Traders (Foundation) - Isaac Asimov

 

[Short Story]

Guild union
(Atomic engineers)

Negative depiction - Nepotistic and anti-intellectual.

Secondary

1951

Day Of The Moron - H. Beam Piper

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Atomic engineers)

Negative depiction - Protects unqualified workers. Bureaucratic and obstructionist.  

Primary

1952

The Space Merchants - Frederick Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth

 

[Novel]

Business union (Agricultural)

Negative depiction - Labour union exploits worker.

Secondary

1952

The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Unspecified)

Negative depiction - Corrupt union leadership.    

Tertiary

1953

Starman Jones – Robert A. Heinlein

 

[Novel]

Guild union (Transportation)

Negative depiction – Union is anti-meritocratic.

Secondary

1957

Strikebreaker - Isaac Asimov

 

[Short Story]

Solidarity union (Waste processing)

Negative depiction - Strike threatens survival of colony.

Primary

1957

The Lineman – Walter Miller Jr.

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Lavaworkers)

Negative depiction – Union described as “yellow-bellied obscenity.”

Tertiary

1960

The Apprentice - James White

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Department store)

Positive depiction - Employee has job protection

Secondary

1964

Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Plumbing)

Negative depiction - Corrupt union leadership.

Secondary

1966

A Relic Of Empire - Larry Niven

 

[Short Story]

General statement about unions.

Positive depiction - Described as ‘necessary.’

Tertiary

1974

The Monster of Peladon – Dr. Who

[Television Episode]

Business union (Resource extraction)

Mixed depiction – Workers have valid concerns, but are pawns in larger political game.  

Secondary

1978

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams

 

[Radio/Novel/Television]

Guild Union
(Philosophers)

Negative depiction - Antagonistic towards progress, interested primarily in “gravy train.”

Tertiary

1979

The Kilohertz War - Alien Worlds

 

[Radio]

Business Union (Technicians)

Negative depiction – complaints about union striking.

Tertiary

1986

Watchmen – Alan Moore

 

[Comic book]

Business Union (Police)

Mixed depiction – 1973 police strike causes violence, but may be justified.

Tertiary

1987

Robocop - Paul Verhoeven

 

[Movie]

Business Union

(Police)

Negative depiction - Heroic characters cross picket line. Quote: "Police officers don't strike."

Primary

1988

They Live – John Carpenter

 

[Movie]

Business Union (Construction)

Mixed depiction – Union is “closed shop” but hires itinerant protagonist anyway.

Tertiary

1989

Orbital Decay - Allen Steele

 

[Stories / Novel]

Business Union (Construction)

Positive depiction - Union helps ensure safer workplace.

Primary

1992

Heavy Time - CJ Cherryh

 

[Novel]

Business union (Mining)

Negative depiction - employer-dominated union.

Primary

1994

By Any Means Necessary - Babylon 5

 

[Television]

Business union
(Dockworkers)

Mixed depiction - Striking workers are violent, but achieve fairer wages.

Primary

1996

Night Sky Mine - Melissa Scott

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Mining)

Positive depiction - Ensures equitable wages.

Secondary

1996

Bar Association - Deep Space Nine

 

[Television]

Solidarity union
(Service industry)

Mixed depiction - Achieves fairer wages, but must be disbanded because it’s “no longer needed.”

Primary

1999

Against The Tide Of Years – S.M. Stirling

 

[Novel]

Business union (Dockworkers)

Positive depiction – Protagonist provides help to union trying to support fair wages.

Tertiary

2000

1632 - Eric Flint

 

[Novel / Series]

Business union
(Mine workers)

Positive depiction - Organizing prosperous economy.

Secondary

2000

Candle - John Barnes

 

[Novel]

Guild union
(Combat)

Positive depiction - Union   provides health, dental and legal coverage.

Secondary

2000

Company Man - Robert Jackson Bennett

 

[Novel]

Solidarity union
(General)

Positive depiction - Union   works to combat inequality.

Secondary

2000

Cosmonaut Keep - Ken MacLeod

 

[Novel]

Solidarity union
(Online workers)

Positive depiction - Balances power of capital.

Secondary

2000

Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson

 

[Novel]

Solidarity union (Transporation / pedicab drivers)

Positive depiction – fights for fair compensation

Secondary

2000

Perdido Street Station - China Mieville

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Dock workers)

Positive depiction - Unions provide counterbalance to strength of capital.

Secondary

2001

Bendless Love – Futurama

 

[TV Episode]

Business union (Manufacturing)

Negative depiction – protagonist is a scab worker. Union is mob-connected and corrupt.

Primary

2004

Iron Council – China Mieville

[Novel]

Business union

(Railway workers)

Positive depiction

Primary

2005

Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Mining workers)

Negative depiction – Striking workers on the news portrayed as violent.  

Tertiary

2006

Small Minded Giants - Oisín McGann

[Novel]

Business union
(Machinists)

Positive depiction

Secondary

2007

Dirty Hands - Battlestar Galactica

 

[Television]

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

 

[Novel]

Guild Union
(Animal handlers)

Negative depiction - antagonism towards entrepreneur protagonist.

Secondary

2010

For The Win - Cory Doctorow

 

[Novel]

Solidarity union
(Online workers)

Positive depiction - ensuring workers’ rights.

Primary

2010

Damage Time - Colin Harvey

 

[Novel]

Guild Union
(Sex trade workers)

Negative depiction - Union excludes vulnerable population.

Secondary

2010

The Great Bay – Dale Pendell

 

[Novel]

Business Union (Electrical workers)

Mixed depiction

Tertiary

2011

The Expanse
[Series of Novels]
Leviathan Wakes (2011)

Caliban’s War (2012)
Abbadon’s Gate (2013)
Cibola Burn (2014)

Nemesis Games (2015)

Babylon’s Ashes (2016)

Persepolis Rising (2017)

Tiamat’s Wrath (2019)

Leviathan Falls (TBD)

Multiple Business Unions
(Resource extraction workers, transportation workers)

Positive depiction – Union integral in democratic governance. Help defend rights of oppressed workers. Provide legal counsel to workers in need.

Secondary

2011

Contagion

 

[Movie]

Business Union
(Nursing)

Negative depiction - Union rules prevent adequate health care for major character.

Secondary

2012

High Stakes – Naomi Kritzer

[Short Story]

Solidarity Union (IWW)

Positive depiction – Union helps fight debt slavery.

Primary

2012

Existence - David Brin

 

[Novel]

Business Union
(Child care workers)

Positive depiction - Union is part of positive and functional workplace.

Tertiary

2012

“The Doctor Is Sin” – Episode of Venture Brothers

 

[Television]

Business Unions (Machine Workers, Nuclear Engineering and Custodial Super Science Unions)

Mixed depiction – Union has legitimate grievances but are treated as joke.

Secondary

2013

Phosphorus – Veronica Schanoes

 

[Short Story]

Solidarity Union & Business Union (Manufacturing, General Labourers)

Positive depiction – Union stands in opposition to unsafe work practices

Primary

2013

Burning Girls – Veronica Schanoes

 

[Novella]

Solidarity Union (Garment Workers)

Positive depiction – Union stands in opposition to unsafe work practices.

Secondary

2013

Fortune’s Pawn - Rachel Back

 

[Novel]

Business Union
(Merchants)

Positive depiction - Union provides information to employees.

Tertiary

2013

The Day The Crayons Quit – Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

[Children’s Book]

Solidarity Union
(Crayons)

Positive depiction – Union helps improve the working conditions of labourers.  

Primary

2014

Climbing the Date Palm – Shira Glassman

 

[Short Story]

Business Union
(Construction)

Positive depiction – Union fights against wage theft.

Primary

2014

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

 

[Novel]

Solidarity Union
(Agricultural)

Positive depiction – Union fights against indentured servitude in tea production operation.

Tertiary

2014

War & Mir Vol. 2: Darkold – Minister Faust

 

[Novel]

 

Positive depiction

Secondary

2015

Windswept - Adam Rakunas

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Manufacturing)

Positive depiction - ensuring fair wages.

Primary

2015

Bangarang – Killjoys

(Reappears throughout series)

[TV Episode]

Business union
(Resource extraction)

Mixed depiction – Union interferes with protagonists, but also helps vulnerable workers.

Tertiary

2015

All The Childhood You Can Afford - Daniel Suarez

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Manufacturing)

Positive depiction - Ensures gains of automation are shared more equitably.

Secondary

2016

Checkerboard Planet – Eleanor Arnason

[Short Story]

Business union (Natural resource extraction)

Positive depiction – Labour organizer protagonist striving for better working conditions.

Primary

2016

Company Town - Madeline Ashby

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Sex trade workers)

Positive depiction - Ensures workers’ safety and rights.

Secondary

2017

Another Girl, Another Planet - Lou Antonelli

 

[Novel]

Business union
(Duct workers)

Positive depiction - Ensures safety standards in construction.

Secondary

2017

Hunger Makes the Wolf / Blood Binds The Pack - Alex Wells

 

[Novel/Series]

Business union
(Mining workers)

Positive depiction – Unionization drive is response to corporate exploitation.

Primary

2017

The Death and Life of Schneider Wrack - Nate Crowley

[Novel]

Solidarity union
(Undead labourers)

Positive depiction – Union fights against exploitation of labour

Primary

2017

Quirks – Marie Vibbert

 

[Short Story]

Business union
(Carpenters)

Mixed depiction – Union uses memory   uploads to share skills.

Primary

2018

Sorry To Bother You - Boots Riley

 

[Movie]

Business union
(Telemarketing)

Positive depiction - Balances power of capital.

Primary

2018

Unfulfilled/Bike Parade - South Park

 

[Television]

Solidarity union
(Warehouse workers)

Positive depiction - Union   fights for safety standards and fair pay.

Primary

2019

The Future Of Another Timeline - Annalee Newitz

 

[Novel]

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

 

[Short Story]

Solidarity union
(Artificial Inteligence)

Positive depiction - Union fights for fair wages and public good.

   Primary

2020

Lapsis

 

[Movie]

Solidarity union
(Gig workers)

Positive depiction - Organizing in adverse conditions.

 

Primary

2020

The Factory Witches of Lowell – C.S. Malerich

 

[Novella]

Business union (mill workers)

Positive depiction – Union fights for better working conditions.

Primary

2021

Machinehood – S.B. Divya

 

[Novel]

Business union (construction)

Mixed depiction – Union funds antagonistic/violent protesters. Union also helps push back against erosion of human rights. 

Secondary

2021

Heritage - Superman & Lois

 

[Television]

Business union (manufacturing)

Positive depiction – Fights for worker wages and safety at villain Morgan Edge’s factory.

Tertiary

 


7 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

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

      Delete
  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. Miéville 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 Miéville does not depict it as an insurmountable obstacle; many of those people do eventually come around.)

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

      Delete
  3. Another one is the Doctor Who story "The Monster of Peladon", which is set on a planet rich in important mineral where the guys who mine the mineral go on strike looking for better wages and conditions. When first broadcast (in 1974) it would have had interesting resonances for the British audience, as the country's coal miners had effectively brought down the government with a strike at the beginning of the year. I have not seen this story myself; from the synopsis the portrayal of the miners union sounds ambiguous but broadly favorable.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monster_of_Peladon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh! That is a fantastic suggestion, Ian!

      Thank you. I will re-watch that episode, and get it into the list later this week.

      Delete
  4. If you're looking for examples from the world of children's fantasy, there is an intriguing short piece by Enid Blyton called "The Toys Go On Strike", in which a group of children's toys are so irked by their treatment that they go on strike. The strike is favourably depicted - the children have been behaving badly and the toys achieve their aims by striking (admittedly they do not form a union as such). What is funny about it though is that Blyton finds it hard to hide her raging conservatism - even though the logic of the story tacks one way, she still has to throw her reactionary views into the story. So when one of the toys is suggesting to the others that they go on strike, he says "It's not a very honourable course of action but I think we have no choice".

    ReplyDelete