Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Americans on Holiday

Toward the end of July we took a two-day journey from Vancouver to Jasper on the Rocky Mountaineer. For the uninitiated, this is a gin palace on rails that travels that offers great scenery and wildlife viewing. So far so scenic. However, when boarding the train at Vancouver and again at Kamloops, the first overnight stop, we encountered pickets. Seemingly, Rocky Mountaineer's management (very slick and scaringly smiley...) had sacked 108 employees and employed cheap replacements. The discarded workers had had the temerity to seek their first pay rise in four years and overtime, many working 16 hour days on the trains.
Having talked to the pickets - who assured us they didn't want to stop people travelling, but rather wanted to put their case to us - I referred to the dispute, and an incident of harrassment I witnessed by RM's security goons, on Tripadvisor.
Now returned from Canada, I check Tripadvisor only to find the following from two hard-of-thinking and resolutely selfish American tourists, who, while saying they found my review "helpful", then go on to urge others to ignore the dispute and party on down like nothing untoward is happening.
First up we have Junetalks from Westlake Village, California, who writes:
Don't let the labor situation deter you from taking this trip. I was worried about this before we left. It is more or less a non event that will not impact your vacation.
To which I can only say, it certainly should "impact" your conscience: holidays don't come hermetically sealed in value free containers - our enjoyment comes at a price, and for certain members of Teamsters Local 31 that price has proved very high indeed: the least Junetalks could do is to acknowledge the depth of feeling shown on the pickets' placards.
Next up from the Land of the Free industrial relations ignorance cadre, we have Bebecox from Nashville, Georgia (thought it was in Tennessee, but guess they might have two - after all, it's an easy name to spell), BebeCox has an even more right-wing take on this, writing:
Do not let the labor issues with past employess keep you from experiencing this great trip. The replacement workers were a pleasure to travel with and were very qualified to provide excellent service.

Now, the "past employees" thing is particularly offensive: the sacked workers aren't on strike, they were "locked-out" by Rocky Mountaineer, who then recruited replacements to work for even less than the 108 had been paid: this is expressly forbidden under the law of British Columbia, but RM chose to rely on a loophole provided by Canadian federal law - which allows rail companies to lock-out transport workers. Given the essential part rail transport plays to the Canadian economy, you can understand the desire to keep the railways working at all costs. But the point of the exemption is that it's intended to keep the mainly freight-based system running, not to allow holiday tour operators to get rid of expensive (and highly experienced) tour guides, who, let's face it, aren't essential to the running of the Canadian Pacific or Canadian National freight transit networks.
So, Junetalks and BebeCox, while I'm pleased you enjoyed your Rocky Mountaineer journeys, I'm rather hacked-off that you didn't read, or if you did, couldn't work out how much the dispute affected my enjoyment. But, perhaps more importantly, I'm disgusted that you can tell others to disregard a blatant injustice because it might just "impact" on their right to have a good time.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Mordecai Richler? Never heard of him...

Visited the Viewpoint Bookshop in Lake Louise, Alberta and noticed a copy of Barney's Version on the shelf. This was a new edition, carrying a banner that announced "Now a Major Motion Picture". Inside the back cover, the blurb mentioned that a biography of Richler was published on October 2010, so I asked the man behind the counter if they had it in stock. I explained that I was a fan of Richler's and that it was hard to get hold of books by or about him in UK bookshops, I actually referred to him as one of Canada's greatest literary exports. The man replied: "Oh, I didn't know he was Canadian. I only stocked that one 'cos I saw they'd made a movie of it. Does he still live over here and is he still writing?"
I replied, somewhat taken aback, "unfortunately, he died in 2001". The man apologised, and I went on: "You're going to have to catch up on his other stuff as a penance, aren't you?"

Mordecai Richler wrote 10 novels and hundreds of press articles, he won two Governor General's Literary Awards and was made Companion of the Order of Canada. Hard to see how he hadn't crossed the bookshop owner's radar before last night.