Fruits of labour: a day in the field with Free People's Union

Fruits of labour: a day in the field with Free People's Union
Free People's Union mining operation / by Svalbard Sleeper District / licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

While state and corporate authorities can't deal with criminal incursions in Stanton without calling on civilian pilots to help, a worker project based in the system is managing to respond to the challenge while also offering an egalitarian environment for work and community

Note: this article originally appeared on 8 September 2951 in Conscientious Mag

Note: members of the Free People's Union who were featured in this article have since moved on to new organisational projects in Stanton. This article is now kept as a memory of the organisation's activities in the history of UEE-wide struggles for the working class of the Empire

/22 July 2953/

I'm getting uncomfortably used to Everus Harbor. The tint of the warm lighting on the slanted struts of the vista section; the traffic of pilots filtering through to terminals; the utilitarian building materials making a stay here boring to the bones, especially if you're arriving from a planetary landscape or the cherry blossom views of Orison. But once again, I'm here voluntarily, waiting to see a group of people I'm familiar with get involved in things to approve of – like the last time I wrote a report on observations from the station. Pacing in the main lobby area, I am feeling slightly nauseous from a lack of good sleep, and the sound of speakers channelling Civilian Defence Force calls for pilots to assist with a XenoThreat incursion is making it worse.

I had arrived for what was to become another reunion with familiar faces – this time from Free People's Union, a group I was part of briefly a year ago. They are bringing together pilots of various specialisations, ground personnel, support and administrative teams for no less than a project of running a self-sufficient community based on principles of equitable work and distribution of resources. They have had an influx of members recently, which – seeing how it meant a heightened interest of citizens in revolutionary organisations of Stanton – was making the trip twice as interesting for me. This was Saturday, and I was there to join them on one of their planned regular work events – a terrestrial mining operation at an undisclosed location on one of Hurston's moons, organised by the organisation's Department of Industry.

Shuffling through my reporting gear, food and hydration bottles, soon enough I heard a distinct clacking of heavy armour pieces in the lobby. Raising my head, I saw what I could unmistakeably identify as a group gearing up for an industrial operation, even before I could see their faces. One by one, they emerged from the elevator section and into the lobby with coral-coloured Pembroke armour sheets, chatting along the way. I had arrived early for the gathering, so I found myself on organisation comms before the rest of the group began arriving, and could both ask questions and listen to their plans for the day. The meetup was coming on the heels of an hour-long talk we had held in the preceding week, which covered political, organisational and personal matters. Now I was about to see the daily reality of their work.

From a wider roster of the organisation, a group of around 20 members was to launch from Everus for the mining op, ranging from comrades I had met, to some who had only joined over the past few weeks. Four working crews were formed by directors of the event – equipped with both mining vehicles and transport vessels for moving the former across the surface – along with a support detachment and escort pilots in combat ships. Neither the structured approach, nor the detailed briefing I heard was a surprise, given the inclination FPU has with having a well-defined organisational attitude. This structure is tailored not only to individual operations staged during a week by the group, but also designed to provide overall development and reward to those joining the ranks of the project. Director-General blae told me FPU had an "unparalleled suite of benefits and services" for its membership, all set up to "create a place of equality and equity" and ensure "meaningful and dignified work".

Formed by citizens aiming to create an equitable alternative to an organisation they had been part of, Free People's Union became the project of the group as they left Nyx, and the People's Alliance enclave there, to arrive in Stanton. FPU celebrated their first anniversary less than two weeks ago.
The collective aims to become a self-sufficient project of citizens working to earn the fruits of their labour, free from constraints and exploitation of both state and private authorities. Their activities are channelled through a regular work schedule and active participation of membership in organisational matters.
Director-General blae told me Stanton was "at the forefront of the struggle of the working class" against both the UEE "nepotism" and the corporate greed of the private owners of the system, prompting the organisation's decision to move their operations here. In our conversations Director of Logistics FritoBandito also emphasised the militarism of the Empire and the lives lost in its campaigns as a spark for the drive for an alternative.

Launching from Everus, our fleet landed on Arial during full daytime, however a thick layer of dust was carried by strong winds across the gold-red glint of the surface, limiting visibility to a few kilometres. The haze and soaring temperatures soon made the practical reasons for their armour choice clear. In contrast, the medium-sized protective pieces I use imposed a time limitation on my ability to observe action on foot. My Ranger motorcycle, parked back on a station, would have offered no protection from these unforgiving elements either, so leaving it behind had been the right decision. The only option I was left with now was to take a seat aboard one of their support vessels and capture sights of the work operation from aboard, only occasionally – and briefly – entering the surface on foot to take a closer look at the action.

Breaking up into the pre-determined work crews, the members scattered across the landscape of varying hues of sand and frequent layers of rocks. From a few hundred metres above ground, I could see callsigns on the visor UI that showed members Bitrofur (FPU member for a year) and newcomer z0m13ie in the first crew; Wen4 (part of the organisation for a year) as well as meanCanadian (another recognised face) and new prospect Lochryan in the second; Long-running members Cadoyle (Navy Captain from the Department of Defence), PsychedelicMrcy (Department of Industry) and Commander_Tuck (also from the industry department) along with recent recruits MagicShmagic and Mako in the third; while industry department's Mining Apprentice DrunkCorgi and Mokked (member for one year) made up the fourth group. They were backed by support efforts involving Tondar (Marine Major of the defence department and part of the Department of Logistics) and Shadow_o7, who joined the group in the past week. Finally, Director of Logistics FritoBandito and defence department's Navy Cadet Ravenfort took ArenoMusic – who rounded off the list of participants from the roster of new members – under their wing in the escort detachment covering the operation. Director-General blae coordinated the work while ensuring the working groups had resources and communication for accomplishing their tasks.

The crew soon spread out across a considerable area, with up to a dozen kilometres separating each group working on ore prospecting, extraction, harvesting and transportation. I could just about keep up with the action, making notes, capturing scenes and listening to comms channels. The massive MOLE vessels were piercing through multiple ore deposits at once, with ROC ground vehicles creating a web of tracks while navigating to spots that offered the best approach to mineable rocks, and Valkyrie transports roaring overhead. We heard more distant comms messages from the escort pilots reporting on radar scans and visual observations, while the work on the ground turned into a light show of laser beams as the evening approached and dusk descended on the moon.

Through this bustling activity and busy communications, there was one unmistakeable trend I could not help but notice – here was an atmosphere of workers enjoying work – a rarity in the society where private capital has succeeded in making labour an obligation to be survived while you hate every moment of it. A major element in individual and collective self-fulfilment, a source of dignified daily life, a process that is ought to offer the reward of seeing efforts turn into material outcomes, work has been transformed into merely a conduit of doing it "for a living" while doing it for somebody else, through their ownership of workplace.

While my main focus is the medical profession and that's what I'll be working hard on trying to provide for the Union, outside of those times now I feel a lot more confident that I can fill a gap if necessary, that I can communicate with people in different divisions, different departments. And so overall, it has been a very positive experience for me.
- Tondar
Marine Major, Department of Defence

But not here – in the evening dusk on Arial, I watched FPU members operate their machines not with the resignation – so familiar at mining areas, factories and offices across Stanton – of producing that which will be immediately taken away to enrich the bosses, but with the liberation of purpose and solidarity of a cause. Taking notes while my armour was having an easier time producing ventilation in the cooler air of nighttime, I could see and hear the collective spirit in the shifts these people were putting in. They were collecting the resources for a common cause, and they would be rewarded for it – not on a company-defined payday, not using what would be left over once the surplus value was taken away from them, but right here and now, as part of a transparent process. All members involved in the event were paid their share on the spot, and asked about their experience.

Aside from operations, they also benefit from a universal basic income, insurance scheme and other services as part of the organisation, while I also heard about positive effects of FPU's focus on having a well-defined structure, roles, rules and regular operations. It is refreshing to see this, compared to the much more loosely – and often vaguely – running memberships that can be observed in some other groups, including left-wing revolutionary collectives. I hope the latter eventually follow the same path as this project – we in Stanton need as many well-running alternatives to the status quo as possible. Directors of the org I spoke to – blae, FritoBandito and Director of Defence and Intelligence eggers9 – all made it clear they viewed the decision to base FPU on a clear structure with specific divisions and roles as having been instrumental in better training and more efficient work.

When I started [in the org] I had no idea what [specialisation] I liked. I started as a miner for a while, and [later] tried escort [duties], and found that was the thing that I liked the most. It is going to take some time and some switching to get to the thing I mostly like.
- Ravenfort
Navy Cadet, Department of Defence

Non-director members also had thoughts to share on the organisational approach: Tondar was happy to see FPU offer both specialisation to those interested in them but also the opportunity to "fill more than one role", adding the method gave them a "slight edge over some less organised groups". UBI, insurance for merchants and other benefits were also elements he was happy with in the group, while Wen4 told me adopting the structure early on in the life of the organisation prepared it for the future. "This is […] in place for future use, for when we hopefully have more members and really need that structure in place, as opposed to coming up with something at the moment when we need it", she noted.

I also wanted to hear from the directorship about whether their organisational design was welcoming for prospective newcomers who may not be decided on what professions they would like to contribute through. "We have a programme that allows them [a period] when they can [try] different roles in different departments – and they can especially do it during some of our events that occur", eggers9 says, "and we give them this leeway to really find out what they like, what they are passionate about". Members who still find it difficult to make a decision can count on an extension on the deliberation. But that decision needs to be made at some point, to ensure efficient use of resources and equipment the organisation provides to members, FritoBandito noted in our talk.

One of the more critical questions I had in mind was whether the Union was mostly inward-focused in its quest to create an alternative to the state-corporate nexus. Does FPU also see a role in openly challenging the accepted masters of Stanton, at some point in the future?, I ask blae. "Our plans are to present opposition to Hurston and the other corporations in the area […]. We are focused inward, but that is only so that we can expand outward". The Director-General also says "ultimately, our goal is to take our message to everyone […]. [A]t this phase […] we are inward-focused, but our intent, our strategy, of course, is to have a presence in all corners of the universe, so that people can gather, meet, discuss and plan ways which we can effect the change that we desire". The task of bringing that message across to people in Stanton must be a difficult one, I ask. It is "an uphill battle", Wen4 agrees, before stressing that is not a reason to avoid reaching out to people who might otherwise "think they are alone". The downtrodden can "barely even lift their head to see the sky – let alone know that there is an option our there", blae adds, "and so, we do have a big work ahead of us".

[When I meet strangers and they discover you're part of a revolutionary group] you realise that people might be feeling the same way, but they thought they were alone in the universe, and they are happy to discover 'there's someone that's like me out there, that's wonderful.
- Wen4
Department of Industry

The other task that has proven difficult for a long time is bringing revolutionary organisations together. This has been particularly apparent to me through my connections at two of the largest left-wing groups operating in Stanton, as well as through observations of their activities in my reporting work. I want to hear what FPU – both its directorship and non-director members – think of efforts by other groups, such as the Everus Harbor blockade by Red and Black Coalition last June. "I think that it [was] a noble effort", blae says, before adding "I think so much more could be done" if FPU had known about the action to join it. "Like-minded organisations, we have strength in numbers", he tells me. "These kind of actions tend to shake the dust from people's eyes and open them to the possibility of resistance". FritoBandito adds FPU would be glad to find "more like minded organisations to do things like that with". The directors also feel critical about Levski and its approach of leaderless operation, while Tondar also says the People's Alliance has, at times, "been close to failing".

We […] have a programme, we are developing structures, we will move forward, and we are looking for like-minded individuals […] we can lift up our comrades throughout the universe, and help them be better as well. And what more noble cause is there than that?
- blae

Expanding on the subject, I ask the question that has always been a matter of spirited debate – is there space in Stanton for forming an alliance of leftist organisations, to bolster numbers and facilitate long-term joint ventures against the injustices so prevalent in the system? In his initial response, FritoBandito surprises me, considering his previous reply. "I personally believe, no. I believe there's too much disagreement on the fundamentals". His view is that even if there is a general agreement on a future society the groups want to live in, disagreements over the means of reaching it leave not enough room for an alliance until "people wish it to be". Going further into the subject, blae claims to see "a malaise of a lack of hope among a lot of leftist organisations right now". He decries "discouragement" of initiatives of overcoming the status quo from some corners of the left, and a lack of an "overarching statement, purpose, mission, vision, strategy" in the wider movement.

On the other end of the ally-enemy spectrum, FPU has actively taken up arms to combat the recent XenoThreat incursions from the xenophobic – and, at times, fascist-sounding – group. "We don't want to see fascists rising and taking over the UEE", says FritoBandito, "We very much want as much peace within Stanton as possible, even if it means that we have to come to terms with the UEE to remove it". blae adds FPU stands "in direct opposition to the UEE and will do so for the entirety of our existence", but that the group also recognises that there are outlaw entities that have been "even worse for the population, especially the working class". This view has determined FPU's stance of aiding the Civilian Defence Force in its stand against the attacking intruders.

All of this means that while the UEE and Stanton corporations cannot afford to defend Stanton from gang attacks, or offer anything other than neo-feudal expropriation to citizens, groups like FPU manage to both respond to the likes of XenoThreat and reap benefits for their members through dignified work. It is difficult not to feel reassured by their example on the backdrop of the dispossessed working class toiling in the system for the benefit of their corporate masters. My day with the group left me thoroughly delighted with the image of this collective that is bearing the banner of emancipation and having a vision of an organised push to reach into a better future.