Forget about Citizens for Pyro's aims for system - foster worker settlements in Stanton instead

Forget about Citizens for Pyro's aims for system - foster worker settlements in Stanton instead
A settlement on Hurston / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Looking for justice for Hurston workers and considering alternatives of Staton-ifying Pyro

/03 February 2954/

Unfolding my motorcycle's side stand and setting the warm machine down on the firm but sandy ground, I look up at the central tower of the settlement I have just arrived at. The bronze sunlight of Hurston's atmosphere is wrapping the scrap parts used by residents to build the structure in light tones that make it look more dated than it was. Communications antennas and satellite dishes, glued together from scavenged parts, rise from the upper sections of the construction, while elsewhere cables stretched between buildings, looking like they are physically holding them together.

Locals are mostly staying inside, preferring the social hubs of the local bar and accommodation to exposing themselves to a bit of a chill that was descending on the area in the dusk hours. The glow of the lights coming on in different colours across the faces of the buildings could be mistaken for a celebration to someone not used to these places. For me, this is not the first visit to communities that keep maintaining their homes and bonds in these run-down, but much more human-scale residences compared to the polished, corporate spaces across this system. My bike has taken me to more than a few of these locations over the recent months, as I looked to discover and talk to people who not only contend with life on an ecologically maimed planet, but in many cases thrive there.

Heading to the bar, I exchange nods with a few residents walking from it, and open my contacts app to let A and E* know I have arrived for our meeting. The two, long-time Hurston Dynamics workers, make a couple of jokes about local drink prices, but the seriousness of their presence here is unmistakable on their faces.

"How much time do you have until they find out?", I ask them, trying to keep my voice calm but probably betraying my worries.

"A few hours probably, the others are covering for us if the management calls for a shift from our section," E says.

"How did you arrive here?"

"Took a truck we use for carrying materials between warehouses," he nods in the direction of a vehicle parked outside.

"Right, let's get to it then, so you can be back as soon as possible," I suggest and open my device for taking notes. "Do you want to briefly tell me how long you've spent working at the facility and what the work environment is like?"

"Like what you would expect from the company," A smiles. "The two of us aren't the longest-working people there, but we're not new either. The people they have brought in since we started there find the conditions worse than what they expected, but for us... I don't know, I haven't seen anything else, so don't really spend that much time thinking about it."

"What exactly is it like on normal shifts?"

"For those in the worst assembly areas, benches range from dangerously exposed to actively trying to kill you," E explains. "Battery assembly shifts are some of the worst – chemicals getting on your skin, evaporating into your eyes, that sort of stuff".

I ask them what their specific jobs are, knowing I am not going to disclose their answers for their safety. The same will be true for a lot of other questions I have for finding out about what exactly made them take a long drive to this place from their warehouses.

I already know what generally happened though – the two, and several other workers, were first made to work with minimal food provisions and restrictions on breaks, before some of them were assaulted by the company security, after batches of parts they made for hardware failed stress tests. I ask them if writing about the incident will not lead to them being identified by the security, but E wryly smiles and tells me the same treatment has been directed at workers in other facilities for a while now, to a degree where it is difficult to know who has not experienced brutality from the company's butchers.

Typing down details on what injuries were sustained by other workers, while the two show me bruises and marks on their own bodies, I also record related dates, information about their daily meal rations, and names of people in informal unions and media they have tried to reach over the past two months to get the word on their treatment out.

A settlement on Hurston / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

It's already dark outside when A asks if we want beer, then heads to the bar stand. E then tells me he has something to hand over.

"I was holding this back before I could be sure you are serious about this – we've told reporters and union people, but it never looked like they would be interested in taking this further."

He gets out a wrap of tissue that is covering what looks like a plate for food portions. Lifting the upper layer of the thin foil sheet, he slides a sheet of paper out from under it and places it in front of me. "Their names and facility," he says, and I immediately know what the handwritten notes on it say.

"You want this published?", I ask.

"I don't know if that will change much, but these people – I don't even know if you can call them that – they have caused so much harm that I just hope someone will want to send a message of justice to them."

I look him in the eye with even more worry than before. "What will happen to your people if... I mean, something happens there?"

"Well, we haven't tested that before, so I don't really know," he tells me with remarkably little fear, as A returns.

"I understand," I tell them, realising I see enough not to prod about overt statements and potentially place them in danger. These people want something tangible, and I am being given the opportunity to make the decision on what will happen for that outcome.

"Alright, I hope you can see I am serious about this, though," I add before placing the piece in my pocket.

They both nod, and after several more minutes of talk about their earlier experiences, other workers' attitudes at their facilities, and what can be expected from the security, I let them leave.

Sitting in the bar, I watch their vehicle disappear behind the nearest hill, the red tail lights piercing through the dust kicked up by the wheels, and realise how much more dangerous this meeting would have been if not for the welcoming space of this settlement, maintained by the same kind of people – the same class of people at least – as the two I just got to know.

These locations, rising out of the savannah landscapes of Hurston, are little oases of communal life and genuine human interactions – the things long lost in the cities and stations across Stanton, where mercantile wallet-counting, consumerist shopping and personal status-seeking lie as the only bases for encounters between people and groups. What has been lost under the neon banners and blaring ads by companies forcing their products down everyone's eyes and ears is still present here, in settlements operated by ordinary individuals who have found patches of planets they can organise with joint decisions for communal, common purposes.

Taking another sip from my beer glass, I think about how even citizen interest groups are influenced by what this system has become after its takeover by the four entities of private capital that circle its populations like perma-hungry vultures. Here in Stanton we have the likes of the so-called Citizens for Pyro, who are calling for commercial interests to flood the latter system, push criminal gangs out and make it a viable location for trade and "rule of law" order. They basically want us to expand the parasitic model of corporate extraction of wealth from the mass of citizens from Stanton over to the planets and stations of Pyro – benefiting the group's commercial backers and establishing another dominion where planetary and space-borne resources will be vacuumed up by weapons manufacturers and commercial goods producers, who will then sell their products to accumulate more finances and expand further.

The origins of their movement are also illustrative. CfP did not launch after some sort of survey of working-class people in Stanton and Pyro about what kind of model for the latter they would benefit from. It was started after an individual lost her friend in a gang-related incident in the system. This kind of "outraged citizen initiative" may be well-intentioned, but it is ill-advised. If we are considering alternatives for Pyro, the overt violence of gangs there is no better than the slow, hidden daily subjection of workers in Stanton to servitude under corporate terms for corporate benefit. Is the best option for Pyro really to swap one set of overlords for another, and tell ordinary civilians to be happy with the more polished and "civilised" faces of the likes of Hurston Dynamics and ArcCorp having taken over the place? Citizens for Pyro may be registered as a non-profit organisation, but its goals for the system will mean lots of profits for the corporate interests that are licking their lips at the prospect of concerned citizens spending their effort to make the system exploitable for the former's wealth-generation.

The answer to what Pyro should be is the same as the answer for Stanton. Before the state gifted the latter to the four corporations, the place was a location of thriving communities on its planets and moons. They lived, worked and took care of their environments, until the companies pushed them underground, or outright destroyed them. Their legacies are – purposefully or inadvertently – now continued by settlements like the ones I have been visiting. Instead of calling for Pyro to be made into another system for "business", we should help bolster these areas for a different purpose here.

Hurston Dynamics is already struggling to keep control over this planet, which it has ravaged with its resource extraction and weapons testing. Individuals and groups equipped with their own industrial means are using its resources for their own needs, without much regard for the company's formal ownership of it. They are staging operations and setting up infrastructure there, and even maintaining a presence on the surface of the planet is proving difficult for the corporation's security. In actual reality, Hurston is a planet named after a corporation that is only seen in one city on its surface – the rest of it may bear scars of the company's activities, but its land is much more a commons than a fenced-off property of the odious oligarchic family.

What we should push for is a fostering of links between Hurston settlements, and provision of armed support to them by anti-corporate organisations, to ensure a full de facto loss of control over important parts of the planet beyond Lorville for HD. We should then use those independent settlements forming a planet-wide network of workers to prevent the company from accessing surface resources anywhere – by staging regular guerilla attacks on its operations, infrastructure, logistics and security every time it attempts to regain control. Isolated and lacking in necessary supplies for its industrial facilities in Lorville itself due to the sustained insurrection, this odious entity will ultimately be forced off the planet entirely by the basic logic of its business becoming unsustainable and its expenses untenable. That outcome will be what brings benefits to the honest working people in Stanton, instead of us following CfP in replicating what we already have here in Pyro.

As I climb on my bike and leave the settlement in the dark of the night behind me, I also hope, and plan, for an outcome of justice for the two workers I just met. Watch this space.