Voting at Lightspeed
by Jamie Woodcock.
Go down to the docks, through the door to the left of the logistics office, along two corridors, right at the admin office, up a flight of stairs, through the back of the canteen kitchen, down two floors, then at the end of a maintenance tunnel there is a door to the Mechanics Institute. It is a grand name for a shabby set of meeting rooms, well used by more than just the ship and station mechanics.
Across the room a man half stood up from his chair, "I've got two points for the agenda today!" he motioned around the group with two fingers raised.
Another person slightly shook their head, "You know we need agenda points in advance of the meeting, same as every time. I'll add them to the AOB, if there's time."
This was met with a grumble, a few looks around, before settling back down into the chair.
The room was ever so slightly too small for the number of people in it. The meeting was crowded around three tables that had been pushed together to create an awkward combination. Chairs were squeezed in around the outside. A few participants had ended up in the unfortunate position of finding the table's legs where their own should be.
"Ok, we're now over 10 minutes past the start time, so I'm going to formally start the meeting. Please remember to check-in and register your attendance."
A few late comers fumbled with their screens, tapping away, before putting them aside or back into pockets.
"Ok, so welcome comrades, although I think I've met all of you, my name is Guilherme Madeira. I'm the acting chair of the Ceres Inter-Union Coordination Committee. On the agenda today - which you can also see in the first document - we have updates from the dispute at the Liberty Dynamics maintenance yards, the election for the now-vacant treasurer position, and then - as I'm sure you'll all be waiting for - voting on the motion to form a unified congress."
The audience wore a mix of overalls, some clearly from the docks, fresh with grease and stains. Others had come from offices, with a few shirt buttons hurriedly unfastened. Two wore security uniforms, one was definitely a cook, while the rest could have come from a range of workplaces.
Guilherme paused, furrowing their brow, then launched into the authoritative chairing tone once again, "Ok, so I'm going to hand it over to Zhan, who will be giving us an update, ok?"
A younger member of the audience moved up out of their chair. The plastic creaked as they levered themselves up.
"Friends, comrades, let me start by saying it has now been two weeks since - oops wait."
A flustered look shot across their face, with just a hint of a reddish tinge blossoming over their cheeks.
They sputtered out their introduction, "Liu Zhan, second shift workplace rep at the Liberty Dynamics repair bay at the upper docks." Briefly losing their place, before going back to a quick pace.
"We've been waiting five cycles for a response from the Liberty Dynamics local management team. I raised the concerns about health and safety on the airlock seals twice, both in writing and in an in-person meeting. They’ve said that budgets have to be tightened given the wider macroeconomic picture across the solar system. But we all know the risks of a seal breaking while working with heavy machinery…"
A few heads shook across the table and an expletive was muttered from another.
"We have another meeting of workplace reps scheduled in two cycles, where we'll be planning the next steps. But, as we all know, Liberty is pushing through these changes across the asteroid belt.”
The meeting moved into discussions, with proposals for other sections of the Inter-Union Coordination Committee to write letters to the local Liberty manager. There were also some more outlandish plans involving the demonstration of airlock seals in-person, mostly as a joke.
"OK, point 2 on the agenda. Next up we have the election for the treasurer position, now that Kira has moved on to the shipping route to Pallas. As she won't have regular access to the accounts, we need someone to volunteer to take on the role. So, any takers?" Guilherme raised his eyes and scanned across the room.
Some eyes shot downward while others became suddenly interested in the chairs, the opposite side of the room, or anything that did not give a positive indication. A long and awkward silence spread across the room.
"OK, look, I know this isn't the most exciting role, but it is important for the running of the union," he continued, looking around the meeting, "Armaan? No? How about you, Edemilson? Or Sofía? Monique? Would either of you consider sharing the role?"
Some eyes rose up to offer reasons for not volunteering.
“I don’t think I have the time for it…”
“You know me, numbers aren’t my strongest point?”
“I’m already overloaded with tasks from the last meeting…”
“You wouldn’t trust me to check on a filter!”
“I would, but I’m already doing comms for my branch…”
“Yeah, I’m looking after the membership lists already!”
There was a flash of desperation across Guilherme’s face, then another round of pleading to the meeting.
“Friends, comrades, I get it, ok? This isn’t the most glamorous role and there’s plenty of responsibility that falls on the treasurer,” he then turned to a quieter corner of the meeting, “Yetunde, what about you? You work in the accounts department for the local Caldecott-Krüger office, right? So you’ve already got the experience?”
Yetunde sighed and turned towards Guilherme, “Yes that’s right, but do you think I want to try and get the union’s accounts straight after doing that all day at work? It’s a bit of a pilot’s holiday isn’t it?”
“We,” Gulherme motioned around the meeting, “Would all be very appreciative if you could take this up. How about just until we find a more permanent replacement?”
This was met with nods of approval and smiles across the room, particularly as others working in offices saw that this could be their way out of volunteering.
“Ah, well, but,” Yetunde started, but realised the meeting was already forming a decision, “so long as it's not permanently, I guess I can do it.”
There was a smattering of applause as Yetunde settled back into the quieter corner.
"Right, so onto the third point on the agenda - the one we've all been waiting for, no doubt - is the motion to form the Unified Congress. For this section, I'll be handing over to comrade Lewis. So, over to you."
"Thanks, Memo. Ok, so I'll get straight to the point, right? As most of you know, there have been delegations from all the major union branches on Vestas, Pallas, and Hygiea recently. We've sent delegations to the smaller mining outposts on Interamnia, Davida, Euphrosyne, and so on. We've been discussing plans, right? The possibility of forming a Unified Congress, the Congress of Asteroid Belt Unions," Lewis spelled out each letter one after another as though he were feeling out the acronym, then combined them, "Cabu, Cabue."
"That's a rubbish name, if you change the start to-"
"-let him finish, Armaan", Guilherme interjected across the interruption.
"As I was saying, we've brought together the text for a motion - sharing now on your screens - for voting at this meeting."
Lewis shifted in tone, with a slight clearing of the throat: "the committee resolves that that it is highly desirable that the unions of the Asteroid Belt hold a unified congress, for the purpose of bringing the different unions into closer alliance, and to take action in all governance matters across the belt pertaining to the general interests of the working classes."
Finlay looked up from the screen and addressed the meeting more directly, "Given the discussions that we've been having about Liberty Dynamics, I think this is the best way we can strengthen our campaigns on Ceres and build a better future for the belt. I'm calling on all of you to vote in favour."
Guilherme returned to the conversation, "Ok, so we'll now take speeches in favour, against, and any questions or clarifications?"
“I don’t see how this is going to work in practice?”
“I’ll be voting in favour, the corporations work across the belt, so we should be cooperating to fight beyond just Ceres.”
“But won’t this cost us a lot of money? Can’t Yetunde tell us what the finances are looking like?”
“I have a friend on Pallas who’s been telling me what’s happening there. They’re going to be voting in favour and we need to stand with them.”
“This is just an attempt for the Vestas unions to build their power. I’ll be voting against as we need to stay away from these troublemakers. If we put a reasoned argument to the corporations about getting things right on Ceres, they’ll listen to us. What’s wrong with looking after Ceres, anyway?”
“This will never work, I remember back many cycles ago when this was first proposed, nothing ever came of it!”
“I’ll be voting in favour!”
Guilherme let the discussion carry on, cutting off some of the slightly longer speeches.
“Ok, so let’s get to the vote. Votes in favour… twentyfour. Votes against… Nine. Oh that was a hand from earlier? make that eight. Any abstentions? Yes, Marcus, I’ve got your hand… call that two. Ok, so that motion is carried, congratulations everyone!”
Applause rippled across the room, with a few still keen to voice their disapproval.
“As you’re all no doubt aware, we’re the first to vote on the motion. Vestas should be voting now, but given their current positioning, I make it just about one hour and ten minutes for the signal to bounce through the belt to us. We should find out about the others before then, but we all know it’ll be us and Vestas that decides the vote. So I suggest we break for the bar and find out over a few drinks, ok?”
A voice piped up, “what about my other two points for the agenda?”
“Really? I propose we hold that over until the next meeting!”
Clink. Clink. Clink. The sound of glasses being moved, picked up, put down. Dozens of voices intermingled in low level conversation. The occasional word or sentence could be made out, but together they blended into a fog of words. An electronic drum beat rolled in the background, complemented by a quick melody and vocals that had been cut up and mixed many times. The light was low and came from multiple sources, each not quite enough to illuminate the scene. The walls were adorned with pictures, some remembering good times past, others advertising things that could become future memories.
It was busy when they arrived, but the influx of union members had made it even more crowded. They congregated over tables that were spread out this time.
"To be honest, that's not what it's about for me. I just don't want to work, you know?“
"You're such a clown", came one response, mixing in with laughter from their overcrowded table.
"Look none of us want to do this, but how else are you going to afford the next round for us?."
"No, you're right, we all deserve another round, it’s your turn as well isn’t it?” Lewis started, “But on a more serious note, this news from Liberty Dynamics is only the start. They promised improvements in safety, along with many other broken promises. But are any of you surprised? They would tell us whatever they wanted if they thought they could get their own way."
A longer speech was clearly coming. A few heads turned to each other, conspiring to sneak off for another drink.
After a few minutes, Guilherme came back from the bar. He was weaving through the crowd with three drinks arranged in a triangle, trapped between straining fingers. Not a single drop spilled. A slight bump by the table and each drink briefly sloshed over.
“Almost made it. I’ve heard the news from Vestas…”
“Just as we were getting to the good bit of Lewis’ speech too…”
Guilherme addressed the group, “One hour and ten minutes ago, plus the five waiting for these drinks, and our comrades in Vestas voted in favour!”
Smiles broke out across the group.
“Let’s send them a message in solidarity?”
“But, couldn’t we be here all night waiting on messages back and forth?”
“Nothing wrong with that. What else have you got planned?”
So began the first communications of the unified CABU. Over spilled beers, extended speeches, and delayed messages plans for the future were being made.