It's a short story that I read in a book at some point in the 1990's. It was the French translation, so it might have been older. I believe it was a short story by Isaac Asimov, set in the early days of the Galactic Empire from Foundation, but I may be wrong.

The story had someone sent to visit an asteroid colony, might have been a mining colony, for some reason. The visitor is a sort of official and soon realizes that there's something wrong when he interacts with the local officials, and he's told the guy in charge of maintaining the plumbing is on strike.

Short explanation ensues and the visitor learns that no one in the colony would make direct contact with the plumber because he is unclean thus outcast, since he also deals with waste and the dead. Visitor offers to go negotiate on behalf of the colonists because he's not bound by their caste system, to which the colony official happily agree. The negotiations go well and the plumber resumes his work.

However, when the visitor tries to go back to the colony, he finds the way blocked and he is directed, through automated doors and voices coming out of speakers, back to his shuttle and asked to leave the colony because, since he was in contact with the plumber, he's become unclean too thus the colony officials cannot get in contact with him anymore.

  • 2
    An excellent description. Definitely one of the better ones I've seen on the site.
    – Valorum
    Oct 29, 2018 at 20:38
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    @Valorum Thank you. I try to put as much as I can remember when I ask for a story-id.
    – Sava
    Oct 29, 2018 at 21:06

1 Answer 1


Strikebreaker by Isaac Asimov

The world in question is Elsevere, an extrasolar planetoid a hundred miles in diameter which is home to an insular, idiosyncratic human colony of thirty thousand people, who have inhabited the planet in all three dimensions. A rigid caste system has developed, with each occupation being confined to a particular set of families. A visiting Earth sociologist, Steven Lamorak, learns that Igor Ragusnik has gone on strike.

The Ragusnik family operates Elsevere's waste processing facility, and over the generations, the Ragusniks have become a one-family caste of untouchables, forbidden all contact with the rest of the colony. Igor Ragusnik demands that his family's isolation end. Elsevere's ruling council refuses his demands, and if the strike continues, the planetoid's waste processing machinery will break down and every colonist will die from disease. Although the machinery is not difficult to operate, the taboo is so strong that no other Elseverean will do so.

Only Lamorak is willing to speak to Ragusnik. As neither side will give in, he reluctantly volunteers to operate the waste processing machinery himself; as an outsider, he has no cultural compunctions against doing so. Realizing that the ruling council can always import a strikebreaker, Ragusnik capitulates and returns to work.

Lamorak assures Ragusnik that now that other Elseverians and the rest of the galaxy are aware of how unhappy he is, they will eventually end his family's isolation; Ragusnik is unimpressed. Lamorak learns that he must leave immediately, as other Elseverians will no longer have anything to do with him. Now that he has worked at Ragusnik's job, he is an untouchable himself.

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