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As the episode opens, we see ships lined up waiting to dock at B5, and Ivanova and the dockworkers overwhelmed trying to get all the ships in safely. This is nice following after Garibaldi's numerous assertions in the previous episode ("Survivors") that the workers were generally working way too many hours. A Narn ship entering the station has an accident which kills at least one dockworker and destroys equipment and docking ports.
This leads to two unfortunate situations: first, the dockworkers are tired of constant overtime and unmaintained equipment and want a change; second, the Narn ship was transporting a special plant to G'Kar for use in a religious ceremony, and now the plant has been destroyed. I'll deal with G'Kar's plot later on.
Neeoma Connally, the elected leader of the dockworkers' union, says that her people are overworked and underpaid, and that the lack of maintenance on sub-standard equipment is jeopardizing their safety. Her case is underlined, when Garibaldi discovers that faulty computer microchips were the ultimate cause of the accident. Sinclair is not unsympathetic to the dockworkers, saying that he's been trying to get the budget for them increased.
At first glance, Connally is an unlikely leader for the union, as she is frankly rather young and pretty and doesn't seem to fit in with the workers. However, once she begins talking, you can hear almost a Boston or New York City nasal accent that helps flesh out her working-class roots. She also reveals that her father was a union worker, killed during a strike.
Sinclair's optimism regarding B5's budget is rapidly squelched when Senator Hidoshi calls and lets him know that there is no budget increase. The senator assures Sinclair that "experts" say their budget is sufficient to run B5 safely and efficiently. Not surprisingly, this news does not go over well with the dockworkers. As the news spreads, the dockworkers begin calling in sick, beginning an unofficial strike.
Apparently, according to the union workers' contracts, they are not allowed to strike (or at least not under these conditions). Sinclair is concerned that if word of an unofficial strike reaches Earthgov, then there will be more trouble. Connally knows the same thing, and she tries to calm the workers down a bit while she tries to negotiate with Sinclair.
Unfortunately, Sinclair and Connally don't make any progress. Sinclair is worried that if word of the unofficial strike gets out, Earthgov will invoke the Rush Act, which would mean Sinclair would have to use force against the strikers. Connally doesn't believe Earthgov would go that far, but Sinclair says times are changing and Earthgov might just do it. Nonetheless, Connally clearly feels that the workers' grievances are worth the risk, and she says the "strike" will continue.
Sinclair's worries are justified, as Senator Hidoshi calls again and tells him a labor negotiator, Orin Zento, will be arriving on B5 shortly. Zento will try to negotiate a settlement, but if that is unsuccessful, he may invoke the Rush Act. Sinclair protests that force on the government's part might spark a riot on the station, but Hidoshi doesn't back down.
Zento is a no-nonsense, slick negotiator that looks way too much like Fonzi (in my opinion). In an open meeting between him and Connally (with the workers present), he doesn't get anywhere with his transparently false assurances that he understands the workers' feelings. He affirms that the workers are a crucial part of B5, but that everyone has to make sacrifices these days, with the current economic climate (who hasn't heard that!). The workers jeer Zento's comments, and Sinclair steps in to call for a recess for the day before tempers get too hot.
Overnight, Zento contacts Sinclair and says he's heard that the workers are blatantly striking now. He's willing to speak to Connally one more time, but orders Sinclair to be ready to enforce the Rush Act. Later, Zento and Connally argue, but neither is willing to compromise, and Zento storms out saying the Rush Act will be invoked within the hour.
Senator Hidoshi calls to confirm the Rush Act has been invoked. Sinclair orders Garibaldi to get his security men ready, and in the mean time takes a look at the full text of the Senate's order to him.
Garibaldi and his security men advance on the workers gathered in the docking area. I have to give Garibaldi a lot of credit for ordering his men to go in without using any force until the dockworkers throw the first punch. In essence, Garibaldi went in to get sucker-punched - in this case by the foreman whose brother was killed in the recent accident. The security men and dockworkers fight for a few minutes while Garibaldi grabs Connally and drags her out, and then the security men fall back. Garibaldi reports that they are ready for the next step: use a knock-out gas on the dockworkers and arrest them peacefully in their sleep. Why not do that in the first place? I guess it had to be shown that the dockworkers were resisting arrest.
Sinclair has another plan in mind. He goes into the docking area with Connally and Zento, and loudly asks Zento to confirm that under the Senate's order invoking the Rush Act, he (Sinclair) may use "any means necessary" to end the strike. Zento smugly assents. Sinclair then declares that in order to end the strike, he will first reallocate a significant part of B5's budget from military use to upgrades of docking equipment and hiring more workers; and second, he will give amnesty to the striking dockworkers. Zento is appalled at Sinclair's twisting of the spirit of the Senate's order, but has to go along. The dockworkers agree to get back to work right away.
Later, Senator Hidoshi informs Sinclair that the Senate decided to let his resolution to the conflict stand, but many of them are not happy about it. He warns Sinclair that he has made some enemies. What a sad comment on politics (perfectly applicable today) that a peaceful resolution to a conflict is not considered acceptable, and force would have been preferred. As the commander of B5, Sinclair should certainly know if the loss of the military portion of the budget would seriously hurt B5, and clearly he didn't think so. But now he has even more enemies. How long until the Senate tries to replace him?
The second plot throughout the episode, regarding G'Kar's plant, is interwoven with the main plot in a better-than-usual manner. The religious ceremony that G'Kar needs it for has a strict deadline that is running out. Na'Toth learns that only one plant is close enough to be acquired in time - and it is owned by Londo. Londo is quite aware of G'Kar's religious ritual and had gotten the plant some time ago, just in case such a situation should occur. G'Kar swallows his pride and asks Londo to sell him the plant. At first, Londo agrees, for an exorbitant price (in cash), but when G'Kar gathers the money, Londo reneges on the deal.
G'Kar prevails upon a very harried Sinclair, in the midst of the labor problem, to ask Londo to relent, but Sinclair doesn't have any luck, either. G'Kar gives Londo a taste of his own medicine by having Na'Toth steal a Centauri religious statue. At the end of the episode, Sinclair meets with the two of them. He confiscates Londo's plant because of its "dangerous" chemical composition, and he orders G'Kar to locate the Centauri statue and return it. Londo doesn't much care about the plant, since the ceremony deadline has passed. However, once Londo leaves, Sinclair points out to G'Kar that the timing of the ceremony could be reasonably re-interpreted, given B5's location relative to Narn and the travel time of light - and he gives G'Kar the plant. G'Kar carries out the ceremony for the resident Narns that follow his religion.
This episode is interesting for its rather mundane politics cast into a futuristic setting. However, that also makes it a bit of bore as well. I appreciate Sinclair's clever and peaceful solution to the strike, but since none of our main characters was in jeopardy, nor was it really believable that B5 would be shut down or abandoned because of the strike, there wasn't that much suspense.
One of the things that is interesting about the B5 universe is the imagining of the kind of people that are out in space. Obviously, someone still needs to do the labor-intensive and menial jobs around the station, but I had always thought such workers would be people interested and excited in going into space and mixing with aliens. But in the B5 universe, these workers were apparently shipped out by unions (nominally as volunteers) to do a contract job - as Connally said, many of them helped build the station and are still here. Presumably that means they don't necessarily have the money to get back to Earth - or even the solar system - or they are not sure of employment back home.
By bringing in this entire batch of blue-collar workers, you are also bringing in their stereotypical fears and prejudices. Typically, blue-collar workers are not as well-educated, and may be more prone to using violence as an answer to problems. This helps explain how the Homeguard can make inroads into B5, and how the prejudice we saw in "The War Prayer" can flare up on the station. This is a tough situation on a station whose mission is ostensibly peaceful and diplomatic.
Zento and his negotiation mission was a joke. Regardless of Zento's skills and enthusiasm, he must have had pretty clear orders that he could not give an inch in the negotiations. And despite his words, I didn't feel like he sympathized at all with the workers. How can he be the top negotiator Earthgov has?
The secondary plot with G'Kar and Londo was played at least partly for laughs - Londo's glee at screwing G'Kar was pretty funny. However, we did get to see that his joy was only a veneer over his urge to stick a knife into a very painful aspect of G'Kar's life. While it's hard to blame Londo for wanting a bit of revenge, if I can paraphrase Delenn from "Midnight on the Firing Line", where does it all stop? No wonder the Narns and Centauri are always at each others' throats.