Labor History in 2:00

December 28 - Labor Heroes in Space

December 28, 2021

On this day in labor history, the year was 1973.

That was the day three astronauts aboard Skylab 4 staged a one-day strike against NASA, while in outer space. It was an 84-day mission, consisting of grueling, 16-hour workdays.

The crew was tasked with spacewalk inspections of the spaceship, comet observations, medical experiments and many projects to photograph the Earth.

Soon, Mission Commander Gerry Carr, Science Pilot Ed Gibson and Pilot William Pogue found themselves behind schedule, exhausted and in Pogue’s case, sick.

NASA insisted they work through meal and rest breaks in order to catch up.

They became increasingly frustrated by endless instructions that micromanaged every move. Infuriated by Mission Control’s eavesdropping on their conversations, Gibson argued the mission felt like a “33 day fire drill.”

Carr stated, “We would never work 16 hours a day for 84 straight days on the ground, and we should not be expected to do it here in space.”

When Mission Control dismissed the three as complainers, the crew demanded a return to rest and meal breaks and an end to their relentless schedule.

Their demands were ignored and so, they simply turned off the radio link with the ground crew.

Relations improved when the crew re-established communications the next day.

Their schedules were adjusted and breaks restored, though none ever went into space again. Debates continue whether this episode is instructive for the labor movement.

Samir Chopra notes, those "fully convinced of the value of their work are likely to push back when placed in an artificially controlled, too-tightly-regulated environment… the lessons here are not just for manned space flight, but for any workplace environment that approximates its conditions."

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