13 worker revolts and labor union uprisings from sci-fi history

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012

Whether you're a machinist on a tylium ship or a working-class superhero in Chicago, there are three things you deserve: a fair wage, a safe working environment and regular breaks (so you can read Blastr, of course). That's not always how it goes in the world of science fiction, where humans will happily enslave primates just so they don't have to vacuum and alien gods will in turn happily enslave humans.

So before you head off to enjoy your three-day Labor Day weekend (sorry, readers outside the U.S., this doesn't apply to you), we wanted to remind you how good you have it by remembering these 13 worker uprisings, labor strikes and corrupt union bosses from science fiction "history":

17.5 million years ago (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

What happens when you build a computer to solve the riddle of existence? According to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (BBC edition), you piss off the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and other Professional Thinking Persons. Just as Deep Thought---a gi-mega-gantic supercomputer--is about to be asked to calculate the great answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, representatives from the local thinkers' union storm in to defend their livelihoods. Deep Thought offers a compromise; it might might be the universe's second greatest computer, but it's number one when it comes to labor negotiations.

148,000 B.C. (Battlestar Galactica, "Dirty Hands")

"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again ..." The proof is in activist Mario Savio's famous 1964 speech in Berkeley, which---as this video shows---was clearly inspired by Galen Tyrol, Battlestar Galactica's chief engineer and New Caprica labor boss. Tyrol's greatest struggle occurs later, when, after being put in charge of the tylium refining operation, he comes to the conclusion that even a fleet on the run from Cylons should have health and safety standards. He leads a strike and quickly learns that Cmdr. Bill Adama is about a kabillion times colder than your average Pinkerton union buster.

1924 (Aelita, Queen of Mars)

You know why they call Mars the Red Planet? It's because right after the Bolshevik Revolution, a couple of Soviets took a rocket there and inspired the enslaved workers to rise up against their rulers and form the Federal Socialist Republic of Mars ... or, wait, did that even happen? Aelitais considered the first Russian sci-fi flick---and one of the earliest uses of the "it was just a dream" copout.

1946/1963 (The League)

The League from Kyle Higgins on Vimeo.


"Our heroes are overworked and outnumbered, spending their days at civilian jobs just to afford life as a hero." That's the pitch the League of Heroes, the world's first superhero union, used to convince Chicago voters in 1946 to approve a collective agreement for organized villain-bashing. Fast-forward 17 years and the union's leaders, the Grey Raven and Blue Blaze, are going national. It's like Watchmen meets On the Waterfront -- I coulda been a super-contender? (Seriously, The League screened at San Diego Comic-Con 2010, and it's badass. The whole 30-minute film is online for free.)

1951 (The Man in the White Suit)


Why is Obi-Wan Kenobi being chased around by a union mob? Because he's wearing white after Labor Day. Just kidding. The truth is, in The Man in the White Suit, Alec Guinness' character has discovered a super-strong glowing fabric that could render the textile industry (and its employees) obsolete. In the process it's also given me a really easy Halloween costume idea.

1991 (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)

Billed as "the most awesome, the most horrifying spectacle in the annals of science fiction," the ape uprising didn't actually occur in our version of 1991. No, it will happen in a future version of 1991, when a few chimpanzees from the Planet of the Apes jump back in time and sire a little circus chimp named Caesar. Played by Roddy McDowall in the 1972 original Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (Andy Serkis in the 2011 remake, Rise of the Apes), Caesar incites his fellow enslaved primates to bring down the human civilization that has bred them into a slave class. It's a battle involving hundreds of ape-costumed extras, which makes one wonder: Why didn't the International Brotherhood of Actors in Ape Costumes picket when Tim Burton decided to digitally clone his gorilla army for the 2001 reboot?

1996 (Stargate)

If you put the Old Testament in labor terms, Moses was pretty much just a union boss who led a bunch of pyramid workers on a 40-year strike. In 1996, a team of American soldiers traveling across the galaxy through the Stargate discover another pharoah figure who thinks he's god and doesn't have to engage in labor negotiations. This time, the workers don't flee; they tell the Goa'uld where they can stick their staffs.

2010s/Near Future (Moon)


As the 2009 film Moon demonstrates, you don't need a union to stand up for your rights as a worker. You just need you, a clone of you and a robot with emoticon faces to expose how a corporation is exploiting clone labor to harvest Helium 3 on the moon.

2026 (Metropolis)

The world of the future is split in half between two classes, managers and workers, and two soundtracks, orchestral and lame '80s rock. Really, Metropolis is probably one of the greatest films, science fiction or otherwise, examining the issues of class, labor and sexy robots.

2258 (Babylon 5, "By Any Means Necessary")

If you needed any other proof that Capt. Jeffrey Sinclair is no Bill Adama, look no further than season one of Babylon 5. Faced with a strike, Adama threatens to shoot the leader's wife. Faced with the same problem and empowered by the Rush Act, which allows the government to break up a strike using any means necessary, Sinclair basically caves in to the dock workers' demands. He must have forgotten the old adage from the Earth-Minbari war: Give someone an inch, and they'll take a light-year.

2373 (Star Trek: Deep Space 9, "Bar Association")

Can a Ferengi be a socialist? Sure, why not? If you're going to be a recurring alien character in a Star Trek franchise--in this case Deep Space Nine--you'll eventually have to undermine your species' stereotypes. Rom starts a labor union at Quark's Bar after he collapses on the job; his brother wouldn't let him take sick leave to treat an ear infection. For a Ferengi, that's the equivalent of working with a severe scrotum rash. He should at least get paid time and a half.

3000 (Battlefield Earth)

We hate to include Battlefield Earth and force you to lament the hard-earned wages wasted on it ... but, alas, it is a film about enslaving the human race in gold mines and the inevitable miners' revolt. If the Screen Actors Guild really cared about its union brothers, it would've staged an intervention for John Travolta, Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker.

4126 (Doctor Who, "Planet of the Ood")

Here's something Ood Operations should have included in their instruction manual: Your Ood servant's eyes will turn red if he's possessed by the devil, goes rabid or decides that the time for a bloody revolution is at hand. Poor, lobotomized Ood, they are indeed the saddest race in the Doctor Who universe. Their songs of bondage and liberation will break a Time Lord's hearts.

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