Monday, September 6, 2010

LABOR DAY FEATURE FILM: "Dirty Hands" [expdanded]

Battlestar Galactica S3 EP16

"The Organized Labor Episode"

Full program: HERE.

(Sorry, couple of pop-ups.)

Crowning moment of awesome only, here.


In this episode of Battlestar Galactica, Deck Chief Galen Tyrol calls a general strike among civilian military-support workers which service the titular Battlestar -- that being the only military protection for the ragtag fleet of civilian spaceships which compromise the sum total of human life remaining in the universe (our species is being hunted to extinction by psychotic robots).

The stakes aren't usually this high, in real life labor disputes.

In the sorts of labor stoppages we actually contemplate, there might be angry parents of schoolchildren whose education and routines have been interrupted, citizens who can't use public transportation to get to work and to their doctors, factories no long producing metals, manufactured goods and fossil fuels. Clearly there are still consequences, to say the very least. Best to avoid unleashing strike power if it's not absolutely necessary.

Chief Tyrol and his cohort act up on behalf of workers on the tillium processing ship -- "tillium" being the fuel for all spaceships. Again, a big deal. His grievances however were those that are terribly common in real life: dangerous working conditions, long hours, lack of time off and lack of functional grievance procedures of any kind. It was the exploitation of child labor, in the end, that sent everybody over the edge.

Management, in response -- in the form of Admiral William Adama of the Colonial Fleet -- had Galen Tyrol arrested for mutiny. Jailed, he was then threatened with the prospect of his 'ringleaders' (including his family) being executed if the strike wasn't called off. Tyrol gave up entirely, calling off what had by then become a limited general strike against the military. Gave it up like that.

Because this is television, Tyrol was immediately rewarded for his ardent sincerity and practicality by winning a good-faith bargaining session with President Laura Rosylin of the Twelve Colonies -- so the episode can deliver some lovely Aesops. But in real life -- in a trend that has become more pronounced since probably Homestead -- Labor seems generally content with using its 'soft power' rather than the 'hard power' of a work stoppage.

Soft power means: threatening to strike, making a case to the general public, picketing a few times, lawyering and lobbying, and rejecting a few contract offers. Brinkmanship. But that's all we've been seeing. And NEVER do you see sympathy strikes, strikes of solidarity, franchise-wide strikes ... these are just observations. Am I wrong? If I'm not wrong, it seems everyone is fundamentally content with their jobs and with the social contract. Or else organized labor is just that weak and diffuse.

Another thought. One issue that tended to emerge during Tyrol - Rosylin negotiations was social mobility. In real life, social mobility isn't a labor issue at all. "Social mobility", or at least the idea of it, is something actually that works very strongly in favor of management. "If life is that bad as a janitor, be something better than a janitor! Don't insist on health care, cost-of-living raises, time off and maternity leave!" If President Rosylin could have said that with a passably straight face in her situation, you get the idea Tyrol's movement never would have gotten off the ground, save perhaps for a few well-organized bargaining units looking out for themselves.

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