Sunday, December 4, 2011

Postcards From Istanbul

After the LabourStart 2011 conference Geri joined me and we holidayed in Istanbul for 10 days.  What follows are vacation e-postcards to friends and family.

 Some of you all find this repetitive because you're 'friends' with my personal Facebook account. sorry. There won't be one of these every day.

I was late getting to our hotel from the post-conference LabourStart meetings but Geri had a chance to sleep-off her jet lag and was ready to go. We found a nice simple restaurant not too far from our hotel and had a great dinner. Our hotel is inside the old city walls, in Sultanahmet. Makes for a fun neighbourhood, but there is one down side: despite the room having all mod cons in it the sewers in the old city are a bit restrictive and so you can't flush paper. Quite a problem, overcoming 50+ years of training. :-)

Today we spent wandering around. All the major sites we wanted to see were closed on Mondays, but still it was fun to see the city from a quick bus tour and get a sense of how everything is oriented, how far we are from what we want to see etc. And at the Blue Mosque we ran into a small crowd from my conference, while on the way to Hagia Sofia we bumped into some more. A small world...

Just randomly walking we came across:

1. A street of shoemakers. In the dark, when it was quiet, we could hear dozens of cobblers tapping nails into shoes. Very cool.

2. Pomegranite juice may be my favourite drink, surpassing beer.

3. A restaurant serving a very nice lamb stew done in clay pots that are then, in high tourist fashion, tapped until the top pops off and it can be served. Ours went fine but another couple had a problem. Waiter-in-training hacked instead of tapping and the resulting explosion pretty impressive. No one hurt but much laughter and bits of lamb and pot all over.

4. Globalization: African footballer on TV flogging KFC in Turkish.

5. This place hops after dark. Most everything, including museums, open to midnight.

6. Chess set for sale: pieces are the players in the Gulf Wars and the 'War on Terror'. The Bushs, Blair et al on one side, Saddam, bin Laden et al on the other. Very well done too.

7. Very impressive transit system everywhere except the old city.

8. Old city also falls down sewage-wise. We can't flush paper, have a little bin instead. Otherwise hotel like the one I had for the conference: all mod cons but small.

9. The cult of Ataturk is alive and well.

10. There really are only 500 people in the world. Yesterday we twice ran into comrades from the conference. Some Egyptian folks at the Blue Mosque, some Taiwanese and a Canadian at the Hagia Sofia.

11. We could live here as long as we could eat in the restaurants. So far the worst was OK, the other very good and very, very cheap.

12. One out of town day booked: to Pamukkale (Google it). Looking at Cappadocia too.

13. Turkish bath/scrub (large hairy man beats you up with rough scrubs and towels, then steams you to mush) in a hamman tomorrow.

More to come, but internet connection unreliable and my mailer seems not to like the homemade batch uploader that sends photos to Flickr. But am trying to clear photos from camera regularly, so here is the link to the photos of this trip (post-conference, if you want the conference stuff for some reason let me know):

So today was a High Tourist Day. All that was missing a High Group Tour Guide and a sensor in which was burning a huge wad of cash.

Might as well just come out and say it: we bought a carpet. We like it, it is carry-able and it works with a space we have that has been dying for a rug other than the rag rug we have there now for a long while. So no apologies, no embarrassment, and does anyone want a cat prone to hairballs?

Second, I must have inadvertently stepped on some important and mobbed-up toes, because there I was this afternoon, recovering from having bought a carpet from a nice man whose brother is a close personal friend of Paul Martin's, enjoying a steam bath, when a very large bald hairy man wearing an odd plaid skirt came over to me and started whaling away on me.

Having reduced my legs to uselessness, he punched me repeatedly in the stomach, chopped at my upper body until I was pretty much paralyzed, then gave me two simultaneous 360-degree titty twisters, flipped me over, tried to stick each big toe in an ear to the tune of 'Cracking Spine', leaning on me with his considerable weight concentrated at the point of his elbows, and when I wouldn't (couldn't really, all I had on was a goofy plaid towel with tassels) pay up he threw me in a corner and tossed scalding water on me. Having peeled-off two layers of skin he then worked me over with a sheet of sandpaper before soaping all his fingerprints off my body (evidence doncha know) and sticking a thumb in each ear and doing his best to make them meet in the centre of my heard.

If you ever have a steam bath here I'd suggest that you learn the Turkish phrases for "I'll pay, I'l pay" and "what's the vig?"

OK, enough stupid. It was a Turkish bath and it was fun and the bath we went to has been in business for just over 600 years. And it was painful at the time but you can have a beer after and I am thinking I might just have one (massage, not beer...well, perhaps both) a day until we leave. And mebbe come back for one on a regular basis. And pay to get my assailant...errr...masseuse...a registration number as a RMT in Canada so I can claim the whole thing on my benefits plan. :-)

It was fabulous.

Bit of minor catch-up now that we're getting ready to pop out for dinner:

1. Burma has a 'right of return' citizenship law, meaning I can take out citizenship if I want to.

2. Geri had fun and you will soon be able to see the photographic proof of it, in the shoe district. $16USD for fab shoes.

3. Silver and pearls district right next to the shoe bit.

4. The grand bazaar fun but mostly touristy stuff or the equivalent of a dollar store The exception being the antiques section. Which was full of stuff from North africa and India. I should have said 'we think' as the thing is immense and we covered only a very small portion.

5. Most shopkeepers in the GT have a prett ydetailed knowledge of Canadian geography. impressive really. Probably better than most Canadians.

6. Only thing we bought was a scarf which Geri got down to 18 from 35 Lira. Much fun.

7. There is a corset shop in the GT for both genders. Frightening.

8. After we bought our carpet and I was carrying it I thought we'd be left alone by the touts, but not so: "Sir, that looks painful, you need another just like it to balance you out." :-) I like the touts here. They have a sense of humour about their work and don't take it too seriously, don't expect you to either.

Budget-wise, we found it fairly easy. We used points for the flights and the hotel we're in is 30 Euros (it's not as official as Cuba, but tourists are encouraged by merchants to pay in Euros though you can also use Turkish lira, in fact if you do there's a roughly 10% discount) a night. As you can hopefully tell from the photos it is small but comfortable and modern. I was in a smaller room for my conference in the modern part of the city and it was 6-7 times as much I think.

Getting around outside the old city is easy. The transit system is very modern though the subway needs to have about 100 more stations to fully cover the city. There is a tram line that crosses much of the European side of the city with trains coming very frequently. There are buses, some of which have dedicated lanes they don't have to share, even with taxis. And there are tonnes of taxis.

We're not finding walking a problem at all. Lots of hills but none huge. And the sidewalks become stairs where needed.

The only problem I could foresee would be in getting around the old city. It's not accessible and there's no public transport worth mentioning, nor could any fit on the surface. Walking or taxis are the way to go here. Or stay outside this area and take group bus tours into the area now and then (there's lots to see and do in the rest of the city).

Photos are being added as we go along.

Ours is a strange tribe. Secret signs and rituals, displaying our rank in dress. Today at breakfast each and every table had a bible on it (Lonely Planet I mean). German, English and French. The newbies in cargo pants and hiking boots and quick-dry hoodies. The rest, inevitably going to the same places and doing the same things, in grown-up clothes.

I think you all may get stuck with more of these missives than you bargained for. Feel free to ask to be taken off the list. Trouble is, we walk and we walk and we walk, then we have lunch and walk some more, but we don't seem to be hungry most days when dinner time rolls around. As with today when we decided to skip it, stay in and watch the rain, up load photos, deal with e-mail and, you guessed it, do postcards, digital and paper.

Hit the Little Hagia Sofia today. Along with the larger edition pretty much one of the five or ten oldest christian churches around, though the Littler is currently in use as a mosque. Very simple, very nice, well worth the 200m walk from our hotel. :-) Plus it still has its bazaar (churches and mosques were often endowed with a bazaar for income from shop rentals) intact and operating after 1500 years (assuming it was built with the church). Some nice little shops, the whole well out of the way. Wonder it's not more popular.

Spent most of today, about 6 hours, at the Topkapi Palace. Much fun, great architecture. Wildly expensive lunch, but it was cold and windy so... Great views from the restaurant. Best bits the jewels and such and the harem. Emeralds the size of baseballs Diamonds the size of ping pong balls. Some wonderfully worked gold (the Topkapi dagger spectacular but not the most so). Candlesticks each of 48kgs of 22 carat gold and covered with literally 1,000s of diamonds. Worker rock crystal that was so fine and so thin that you could mistake it for glass.

Harem fun too. Would love to see the sections closed-off. You can get a peek every now and then and they look fantastic, and well-maintained.

The other fun bit was the relic collection that the Sultans built up over the years. The walking stick Moses used. Probably when he parted the sea, almost certainly he had it under his arm when he was handed the tablets (tho I have always had a problem with the 10 Commandments story. No ratification vote...). The finger of John the Baptist. The Beard of Muhammed, his gold and jewel encrusted sword from a period when he and his followers didn't have a post to piss in. A piece of the cross JC was crucified on. Best of all, the sword David used to kill Golaith. All labeled as though they had just been carbon dated. :-) I guess if the Sultan paid a pile for it, it pretty much has to be genueine, no? Only if it was free or cheap could it be challenged I guess. Would you want to be the one to say "Err, excuse me, but I think Your Highness just dropped a bundle on some chicken bones, wood chips and barber shop sweepings."?

We're off to Pamukkale next Tuesday for the day. Flights were stupid cheap, compared with a 10 hour bus ride it was a no-brainer. One hour flight out about $60 all-in, back about twice that.

Most exciting news of all and every travellers Holy Grail: we found a ritzy hotel not far from ours which has a happy hour hors d'oeuvres buffet that is free. We'll make it a stop each day on our way home for a drink and a free dinner.

Which means I can send even more of these! :-)

We're close to the mid-point of the holiday portion of the trip and Geri's toe and back could use a break so we're taking a day to hang at the hotel and things nearby, enjoy a bit of sun on the terrace, read, and, yes, do postcards. Beautiful day. I am sitting here watching a steady stream of ships heading from the Med through to the Black Sea. Hardly any coming the other way, I wonder if there are timed traffic patterns? Morning traffic eastbound, afternoons west?

I've lost at least one prior e-postcard that I think was sent, but have also had some get stuck and not go anywhere as the CUPE mail server seems to occasionally decide I am a security risk while here. Apologies for any duplication, the last time it took days for the 'not sent' notification to get to me so I'm going to include some stuff that may have been in a previous message.

1. Love the transit system here. We used the tram (streetcar) yesterday several times and it is up there with Vienna's I think. Toronto's new streetcars should be so good. Under Ford of course it won't matter since they will be sharing what should be an exclusive right of way with cars. Which happens here only in the old part of the city where the streets are narrow. These lovely even down to the multi-lingual stop announcements. We also spent some time on and round Taksim Sq. and so took the funicular that connects the tram line down on the waterfront to the metro station up on the hill at the square. No tourist antiquity, it's a driverless high-tech thingee. Too bad it goes up in a tunnel instead of on the surface though. Nice view of the Bosphorous if it did. There are also commuter trains to the outer suburbs (this a city of 12 million I think). Also almost all very new looking. And electric.

2. I'm never going to develop the ability to speak more than a dozen standard phrases of Turkish. This language right up there with Czech and all the tonal languages as far as difficulty is concerned. But it can be fun to see the Arabic/Moor/Romance/Persian influences and realize that if you speak the word in Urdu or in Spanish or in Italian you suddenly know what it means. Maidan to Meydani for example or Cadde to Calle.

3. Stopped on the main high-end shopping drag, Istklal, for coffee. Facing the windows in comfortable little chairs and suddenly a weird gaggle of Japanese tourists all dressed in electric plastic walked by. Dayglow orange and green and red and whatever coloured plastic clothing and boots. Electric green coat with gold boots just about made me gag. A family/ A club? Street theatre? Then a few minutes later an elderly man came along, re-arranged the flower pots on our window sill to better suit him, smiled at us and walked off.

4. You realize just how clean the city is when in the modern bits. Way cleaner than Toronto for example. Lots of uniformed street cleaners everywhere. Old city has no litter, but is old. But the modern bits sparkle.

5. Nice man showed us how to buy transit tokens yesterday. Everyone like that. You can stop a shopkeeper or tout from trying to take you somewhere or sell you something by asking them directions or how to do something. The pitch stops, they help, everybody smiles, and you can walk off before they get back into sales mode. Very nice.

6. Street food here mostly Turkey's version of bagels, roast corn and roast chestnuts.

7. Just noticed a few days ago that our toilet, and most I have seen, has a nozzle/faucet built-in to the back rim I presume this is the mod con version of the bucket-and-cup substitute for toilet paper that I last ran into in India. Faucet knob on the wall. If pressure sufficient and faucet control fine enough, I could put on a puppet show for myself. Mebbe take photos. :-)

8. Had lunch at Altin Balik on Turnaci just off Istiklal. Wow. Best calamari we ever tasted with an very nice sauce they whipped-up and the local sea bass wonderful. Plus they bring a selection of fresh fish to your table, you pick the beastie you want and tell them how you want it prepared. One very fine meal.

9. Across the street from the second floor of the restaurant was a window either covered with sawdust or containing a room full of sawdust, and some homemade electrical connections worthy of Delhi. So come, eat at this place before it disappears in the fire to come.

10. A shop just off Istiklal sells nothing but booze and potato chips. Reasonable selection of both considering the shop is mebbe 10sm at most. Why go anywhere else?

11. Lots of 'subtle' sexism. As at a restaurant table when I get to taste the wine, I get the bigger pieces of everything and am clearly expected to order for Geri. But some of the complaints I heard at the conference from a young woman travelling outside Canada for the first time may be more about commercial harassment than sexual or gender.

12. Here on our hotel terrace I can see 30+ ships lined-up either for the Bosporus or for one of Istanbul's ports. To my left is Little Hagia Sofia (Little St. Sophia), a 1500 year-old church now a mosque. A little further left are the minarets of the Blue Mosque, and in between is an Ottoman palace on the Asian waterfront of the city. Some kids are playing football on the sports field/community centre across the road, and a nice man is pushing a cart down the street bellowing something that invites folks in the neighbourhood to give him recyclables that he then sells. I wouldn't need to win a whole lot to be able to live like this the rest of my life...

13. I'm keeping pretty much up to date with photo uploading. So if anyone is bothering to look, there are a bunch of new sets. I wish I could convince myself that the photos of buildings like the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi or especially the Hagia Sofia in any way convey how impressive the buildings are, but I can't. Sigh.

Had lunch in a ritzy restaurant under the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Way out of our price range, but pretty good, plus it was raining, so...sitting there, watching fishing lines with a half dozen sardines each come up out of the water and disappear up above as the fishers on the roadway pulled in their catch. If it had been warm enough we would have been on the terrace out front, ducking the wriggling fish and the weights at the end of the lines. And there are LOTS of lines. Every metre of waterfront has at least 2 fishers. Later found a bar on the other side of the bridge, beer and a water pipe.

Good thing lunch was first as otherwise watching the fish 'flying' straight up while working the water pipe would have suggested something other than dried apples in it.

Just quickly (we're both awake in the middleof our night for some reason)...

It was about 8 hours from Toronto to Munich and then about 3 to Istanbul after a change to a Lufthansa flight. We came on points and so had exec class seats. Pods to Munich, the disappointing Lufthansa Business Class from there onwards.

The return flight is through Frankfurt. Unfortunately not ebough of a stop there to justify any time in the Star Alliance exec class lounge. Last time there the 'car wash' toilet seat feature made the extra travel time well worthwhile.

Never felt unsafe. Doesn't mean we weren't of course.

I think all I can say is that no one has shown any hostility in any way. Most actively friendly, and not just folks trying to sell us stuff, but people like the fellow who approached me on the tram platform yesterday when he noticed me taking photos of the New Mosque (new because only 600 years old).

Now that I'm awake, here are a few more answers:

1. Tipping in taxis is to just round up to the nearest lira. Otherwise a few coins, though at higher-end restaurants 10% is about right and sometimes included in the charge anyway.

2. Weather has been near-identical to Cobourg's. C o o l (s u n g l a s s e s)

3. Credit cards everywhere, and better than the US (where we were in September) becuase chip cards are standard here. In this as in many regards, you should expect what you would in any other European country.

4. Better to exchange money at a Cambio than a bank as the charges are less. Banking machines everywhere too

 Odd notes and such this time. Every time??? Geri has a bit of a cold so I am hoping we'll take it easy today and not venture too far from home. So some post-breakfast scribbling on the terrace would seem to be in order. Yesterday was a bit dismal and rained a bit on and off after a few hours of blue skies in the morning. Today the blue seems to be holding. The Sultanahmet area goes from looking washed-out and dingy to pretty in the sun.

1. Only once in all our rides on public transit was Geri not offered a seat by a youngish man. and this without her (mis?)using her cane. :-) But when she has used her cane as when we've had a flu day of hiking around, she has had repeated comments from everywhere from shopkeepers to museum staff about it. Cuban of course, and quite intricately carved.

2. Yesterday in the morning we took a cheap (unguided) cruise up the Bosphorus to the second bridge, not quite to the Black Sea, and back.

3. Fishers really are everywhere along the water. Christopher would fit right in.

4. There's an island not far from the first bridge which is entirely devoted to a couple of restaurants and a cafe. And right next to it is a floating doghouse. Photo to prove, complete with a bird on the doghouse.

5. After, we had lunch in a ritzy restaurant under the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Way out of our price range, but pretty good, plus it was raining, so...sitting there, watching fishing lines with a half dozen sardines each come up out of the water and disappear up above as the fishers on the roadway pulled in their catch. If it had been warm enough we would have been on the terrace out front, ducking the wriggling fish and the weights at the end of the lines. And there are LOTS of lines. Every metre of waterfront has at least 2 fishers. Later found a bar on the other side of the bridge, beer and a water pipe. Good thing lunch was first as otherwise watching the fish 'flying' straight up while working the water pipe would have suggested something other than dried apples in it. We both quite liked the 'hubble-bubble'. Pleasant apple flavour.

6. We think the anti-smoking laws must be new. Yesterday we could hardly see the no-smoking sign in the bar for all the cigarette, cigar and water pipe smoke. :-)

7. The bar and restaurant (on opposite sides of the bridge but both on the lower level) had fab views of the ferry landings. Quite a show. Continuous and fast.

8. In the bar Swansea vs. A. Villa was on. Swansea getting more cheers. Perhaps out of sympathy: no matter what the game's outcome the team has to return to Swansea. :-)

9. Reading a bit of the local English language papers in our 'free hors d'oeuvres bar'. Parliament just enacted a Council of Europe convention on violence against women Wildly progressive in comparison with our laws. For example arranged marriages are now illegal. Parents can be charged and the marriage itself reversed. But I can't find a definition of 'economic violence' against women. In any case it is now a crime here.

10. Also in the process of amending their constitution. Have to say in many respects their current one, while it has some serious flaws (making the military a kind of constitutional court with the right to stage a coup being one small example), also has some enviable bits. Being secular and so for almost 90 years is one. I find it irksome that I live in a country where a large minority have some other religious belief or none at all but where we all, and our laws, are subject to compliance with the Christian god's rules and regs. Especially while we have a Prime Minister who thinks that The Flintstones was a documentary. It must also be nice to have a head of state who's not only elected but a citizen of the country s/he runs. Oh, and all the legislative bodies of government here are elected...and awake, as far as I can tell. Unlike a certain senate. :-)

11. Where was I before I got all preachy? Ah, yes, the Turkish Constitution. Anyway, the military bit, there since the War of Liberation, is going. And while it will remain secular (it looks like anyway), the current prohibition on any religious display or activity or dress while on public property looks to be going. There will be some provision supportive of religious freedom etc. It recently became possible in law for women to attend university while wearing islamic head scarfs, though not, I think, the full near-purdah clothing. But apparently this change was challenged and it's constitutionality is in doubt so something explicit is to appear in the Constitution.

12. Too bad recognition of minority ethnic rights not in the cards as far as I can tell. Kurds treated like shit here and Kurdish organizations of any kind all appear to be labelled as 'terrorist'. Ditto journos critical of the government. Turkey has more of them in jail than any other country I think. Glad I left my IFJ card at home. :-)

13. Taking photos here starts conversations. Mostly people just smile and say 'welcome'. Probably because that would the limit of their English. But sometimes, as yesterday at the Eminou tram stop, you come across someone with a fair bit of the language and you have a nice chat.

14. The Hippodrome, the Roman horse track, near the Blue Mosque, is closed to most traffic. At the entrances are remote-controlled stainless posts that sink into or rise up from the cobbles when a parking attendant presses a wireless remote button. Stupid I know, but I thought much fun. I used to be a parking lot attendant, bored it would be fun to see if the post motors are powerful enough to lift, oh, say, a garbage truck. A taxi? Or whether they are fast moving enough for a game of chicken with a tour bus. :-)

15. Huge wine industry here. Government can't ban alcohol (see secular constitution above) but does heavily tax all but beer. Some nice wines and some varietals that we have never heard of before. Local only?

16. From the water we got a chance to see the huge Rita-Carleton development in its entirety. Hotel and condos, as in Toronto I think. In the new part of the city's European side it completely dominates the skyline in an area not short of skyscrapers. Remarkably ugly.

Off to walk the area around the spice bazaar, supposed to be the last bit of the old city untouched since the 1950's tourism-wise at least, then our free food bar (the waiter deserves his own entry in one of these e-cards and will get it), then an early night as we're being picked-up around 0500 tomorrow to make our flight to Pamukkale.

Added a few new folks to the thread. Few of you just slipped through the cracks, another one or two we left off thinking a spouse would pass them along, but then you never know, so....

Getting towards the end of the trip (I can tell because we always through our restaurant budget to the wind and just go for a comfortable spot, regardless if there is a cheaper and possibly even better bit of street food available just outside). :-)

17:45 call to prayer just starting as I write this. Kinda nice, hits us from 3 or more mosques here Not that anybody except the tourists pays attention any more than everyone rushes off to church when the bells ring on Sunday at home.

1. Parks here have lots of clean benches. LOTS. And I think I have yet to see one without a kiddies play area and at least one muni worker sweeping or brushing or washing.

2. On a not-unrelated note, solid waste trucks have 3-man (always men) crews. Nice uniforms too. The Sultanahmet uniform is a nice bright green.

3. In the older parts of town fruit and veg carts are common. Vendor pushes it along, shouting out (I presume) what he has for sale).

4. Lots and lots and lots of cats. And everyone feeds them.

5. Has to be 20+ daily newspapers. Lively, despite the threat of imprisonment under the bizarre (almost as much so as the British) laws re. libel and the rather unique crime of 'insulting Turkishness'.

6. Got a peek at an empty tram car driver's compartment Very star Trek. when I grow up I want to be an Istanbul transit driver.

7. In the old city parking is a world-class sport. People park where and how they can, the city responds with various devices meant to keep cars off curbs and sidewalks etc. But the drivers are both skilled and creative (and on steep hills don't turn their wheels in as it causes the to take up more space). Can also lead to pedestrian traffic jams as tight spaces between parked cars and traffic combines with Turkish politeness ("No, after, after").

8. Stiff climb up to and then part way just up the Galata Tower. 70m or so. Nice view. Sitting inside with a window having tea I could pick out my fellow acrophobes as they slid along the wall and into the window niches when they got to them. Looking very stressed too I should say. I gave it a try but the open railing and narrow deck under my feet was too much. Would have been able to manage it if they had proper safety netting, air bags on the ground, safety harness and ropes, chicken wire wrapping the deck circling the tower, guards along the railing, their arms linked, and a helicopter circling over the waiting ambulances.

9. Only 2 full days here in Istanbul left as tomorrow is out trip to Pammukkale. . Thurs and Fri. The Chora Church's Byzantine mosaics supposed to be spectacular, but after 3 trips to Italy, churches kinda pale. More so after easy-on-the-aye mosques with their geometric decorative designs. The prospect of diabetes-inducing gilt and such not too enticing right now

10. Huge seagull hovering outside our window as we have lunch in the Tower cafe. Muzac system playing 'Three Times a Lady' and 'Can't Stop Loving You'.

11. Istanbul is where tulips came from. Netherlands just controlled the trade. This place in spring makes Ottawa look like a plain lawn.

12. Disappointment: no sufi shrines and all the dervish stuff is faked for tourists.

13. No skateboard or rollerblades seen. Nice!

14. Grand total of two beggars seen, one of them a kid who was rather well-dressed for what he was doing and so may just have been trying it on.

15. Next time we're here: summer, so we can spend more time on terraces. And we'll book cooking classes in advance.

Bye. We need to be up at 0400, so having an early night with the assistance of a couple of large Efes. Some Beyaz white in Geri's case.

This is likely the second-to-last postcard.

1. Monday night we found a nice little neighbourhood water pipe cafe that may never have seen a tourist before. No alcohol, just a couple of for items, lots of tea and a water pipe for every table. A very nice little cozy spot, if it served beer I'd move in. Server an awkward teenager in leggings who moved like a newborn horse, spoke excellent English. Her parents own the place. Goofy Turkish comedy films on the TV. Lovely spot just outside one of the entrances to the Little Hagia Sofia.

2. The flight out to Denezili went well. The Ataturk airport domestic terminal is dandy, lots of staff for everything and even though they have more security checks, you get through faster because there are more stations. And the security types aren't rent-a-cops, and are mostly women. :-) All spoke English, including the cafe staff.

3. My cold has migrated to Geri.

4. If your ticket and boarding pass say 'be at the gate 45 minutes before departure', do that. A lot of the gates just lead to a bus transfer. Miss the bus and...

5. Men, wear tightish pants when travelling through Ataturk as all belts must come off and a bit of slack can take your pants a long way.

6. Turkish Airlines uses a bunch of Manchester United stars for their safety video. Different.

7. Ataturk's a CAT III airport. Too bad Denezili isn't (see below).

8. We were on an early model A319. New seats and all but the spacing was a reminder of why the 'good old days' are the good old days There was so much knee room people could get the aisle to the window seat without anyone even standing up, let alone having to get out into the aisle and completely out of the way.

9. The flight was early morning. Landscape rugged, small mountains, barren because the wheat and corn harvest is done. Small villages in valleys. Not much water aside from a few large lakes. And some of the lakes appeared to have either salt pans or fish corrals. The former seems more likely to me for some reason.

10. Like most airports here, Denezili's is both civilian and military.

11. The area's big industries appear to be marble/stone works and textiles. Huge textile factories.

12. Our airport transfer took us to the Koray Hotel to wait for the tour start. I would avoid. By Cuban standards a 1.5 star I should think. Heating in the dining...well, really, the everything room...was provided by a wood stove with an over-long horizontal pipe leading to a homemade (and badly) hole in the wall. The hotel also has a door from the third floor bar that leads to nothing more than a three-floor drop. Look for the photo of the door swinging in the breeze.

13. Rural Turkey very, very, very clearly not nearly as prosperous as urban Turkey. Not just Istanbul: the cities and large towns we drove through showed this too.

14. Apartment buildings clearly take some time to complete in rural Turkey as buildings are occupied on the ground floors and up as the upper floors are still under construction.

15. In villages could still see large groups of women getting together to do things to crops to prepare them for eating or storage. All by hand. Regret: driver too fast, couldn't get decent photos

16. First stage of our tour: the Pamkkale necropolis. Cemetery going back to the Greek period. Through Roman, Byzantine periods to 1334 when an earthquake meant it was abandoned. Jewish section from the Roman period. Loved it, but not much to say. See the photos when I get them uploaded (hopefully later today).

17. Ditto the city itself.

18. Small spa-like centre in the national park where an agora (marketplace) sunk in an early earthquake and flooded with hot spring water. Now used as a pool, complete with fallen columns etc. from the Roman period at the bottom.

19. Quite a high-end little place. 25lira just to swim. Plus they have goofy but expensive things like 'doctor fish' treatments wherein you sit in a tank with a bunch of remora-like fish that nibble-off all your dead skin etc. It's the 'etc' that worries me.

20. Full of desiccated German women of a certain age, desiccated German men of a certain age who can be distinguished from the desiccated German women of a certain age only by the fact that they use carbon-fibre walking sticks to go anywhere and everywhere.

21.The calcium deposit cliffs and pools and the walk down the terraces is just amazing. See the photos, but know that they do nothing like justice to the experience. Plus by walking down you feel like the soles of your feet have been exfoliated. Which they have. And scaled by the ater rushing down at the top, frozen by that same water by the time you get to the bottom.

22. While there really was no way around doing a group tour unless we were prepared to spend at least one night out of Istanbul (but then again, see below), we were again reminded why we don't like group tours. There was a museum we would have spent time at if we were on our own, we got stuck in the obligatory visit to an 'onyx factory' which was a sales stop and nothing more, and got to live with other people's enthusiasm for delay.

23. Beer of the day was Efes Dark. Indulged while playing with the cats and watching them go to sleep on my jacket at the spa.

24. Geri's folding stool again proved it's worth. She could rest her back anytime, anywhere. Thing just hangs off my shoulder bag when not in use and folded. Can't weigh much more than and possibly less than 500g.

25. One nice thing about the group tour was meeting a Brit couple. Both a little off-centre. She recently got a free trip to Mexico by volunteering to be a test subject for a drug company with a cholera patch it hopes will replace the shot. I was mildly surprised to find that I am not interested in that kind of free travel. I amy be brighter than I think.

26. There is a town named Batman in Turkey.

27. The restaurant the tour took us to for the included lunch served something that I think can only be described as "dismal food".

24 Back at the Carpak/Denezili airport, which is new and vast and empty, we were told that fog had resulted in our flight being cancelled and we could either get a night in a hotel or a bus ride to an airport 4 hours away at Izmir(ly 4 hours drive away). We took the drive, tried to sleep, made friends with a young Indian couple and sisters from the US, survived, but collapsed into bed when we got to our Istanbul hotel having been up (some bus naps excepted) for something like 28 hours. Izmir airport older but very efficient Interesting, and I think this is true at Ataturk in Istanbul too, there's not much by way of a closed period for flights. Even though residences are visible from the runways.

25. Our second last day: perfect weather but we have low energy. And Geri's cold means she's leaning towards staying in and vegging with her iPad.

26. Red lights in some urban areas have a countdown the way pedestrian crossing lights at home do. A chance to get ready to stomp on it at the earliest opportunity. Not that everyone, including our bus driver on the road to Izmir last night, pays attention to red lights late at night. And drivers in rural areas don't pay a lot of attention to white lines, solid or not.

27. Bus played a Turkish potboiler soap the whole time. By the end I was kinda interested...

28. Turkish politics interesting. AKP religious and extremely right-wing, but really wants into the EU so tidying-up its human rights record. Also clearly plans on replacing the US as it withdraws from the region. Some goofy regional imperial ambitions. References to Cyprus (or the northern bit anyway) as 'our foster-land'.

Ta-ta. Will send on something else if any interesting happens (by my definition, obviously :-) ) before we leave, otherwise just look for a 'home safe and sound' message when we get there and can say that.

Now in Franfurt in the Lufthansa Biz Class lounge (they have an even ritzier First Class lounge). Nice, as always, and I do enjoy the 'mini car-wash' toilet seats. Been a couple of years since we were last here, good to see they haven't disppeared. Always a bit awkward taking photos though s h y /hearts / pink , so may have to rely on the old ones already on Flickr.

This lounge nothing on the Turkish Airlines lounge at Ataturk. Best we've ever seen. Grand piano (with player), pool table, lending library, cinema with mebbe 30 seats, architecturally interesting design...worth the flight on its own. :congratsthumsmiley:

I added photos of the Ataturk lounge to our Istanbul photo collection.

Anyway, I guess that's about it. Another couple of glasses of champers before we head to the gate. Geri's gagging for some toast, will have to see if they can rustle something up.

Hope somebody got something from all these. Remember most of the posts above were family/friend postcards, so if you can't figure something out or want some further info just ask.

Perhaps we'l look at planning three weeks on CSM in Feb/march over some champagne while we wait... C l a p p i n g

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Global Labour Movement Moves to Support Maruti Workers – Online!

For immediate release - 19 October 2011

At the request of the Maruti workers’ union and the International Metalworkers Federation a global mobilization of solidarity for the striking workers is taking place online.

Workers around the world are being organized to send protest e-mails to Maruti-Suziki’s Managing Director demanding that the company immediately cease violating basic labour rights at its factory in Haryana.  This effort is only the second such involving an Indian dispute.  In just a few days the campaign has already generated thousands of messages from supporters in 105 countries.

The campaign is being mounted using the services of LabourStart, the global labour movement’s online news and campaigns website.

Eric Lee, LabourStart’s Founding Editor and Webmaster, noted that “This is one of the fastest-growing campaigns we have mounted in our 13-year history.  The struggle these workers face, the duplicity of their employer, and the collusion of the Haryana government was already well-known when the violence began.  Even before our campaign started these workers had captured the imagination of trade unionists around the world.”

“Maruti-Suziki and the Haryana Labour Department are dragging India’s name through the mud.  Our country’s reputation is being damaged around the world as the violations of basic labour rights become widely-known.” Says Mahesh Upadhyaya, LabourStart’s senior correspondent in India  “And Suzuki is doing serious damage to its brand by being associated with the thuggery taking place at the MSIL factory.”

Join the campaign HERE.

LabourStart is a global network of almost 1000 trade unionists around the world.  Founded in 1998 in London UK and centred on, LabourStart collects and makes available labour news from around the world in 27 languages.  It also provides a variety of internet-related services to trade unions, including an online campaigning service using e-mail and social media platforms.  

Contacts:     Eric Lee, Editor,
        Mahesh Upadhyaya, LabourStart

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Steve Jobs is Dead

I'm growing quite cranky with the Steve Jobs hagiographies passing as comment and such. Almost all that I have seen are about his legacy as far as electronics consumers in the North are concerned.

At the Southern end of Apple's supply chain? Child labour, suicidal sweatshop workers, unsafe working conditions and Jobs-dictated downward pressure on wages and working conditions in an effort to keep production costs down. A saint? Uh-huh. Sure he was: thanks to Apple's marketting folks.

Paul Hardy (SIPTU, Ireland) has done a nice job of dissecting the goofy surge of affection for the departed. See his blog post HERE.

And for a taste of what it was like to work at Apple when Jobs was at the helm, see the Gawker's take HERE.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yet Another Organizing Block on Facebook

Just FYI for anyone using Facebook for organizing purposes, I have had my ability to send 'friend' requests blocked.

No one complained, but each morning I made a habit of sending requests to ten (10) people, all of whom being people I shared at least 100 'friends' with. I should have tracked how may days I did that, but my guess is something like 20.

This is yet another example of the problems you can run into whilst using Facebook in your union work.

More HERE. Even though the article is somewhat dated, the problems persist.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Union Looking for a Photog

From CEP 2040 (one of my unions):

A fellow union is seeking a unionized freelance photographer to work at their upcoming convention in Toronto. The basic specs of the job are to photograph convention delegates, events (inside and outside), and exhibits in Toronto for about 1 week at the end of October of this year (mostly day time, but at least 2 long days -- to midnight or later).

For technical, they need people who:

1) work in digital,
2) have have a viewing system that can be set up at a table to display the photos to convention delegates so that they can choose the photo they want
3) has bilingual staff that can work at the table so that orders can be placed
4) can supply printed frames for the photos

If you can meet these specs then please email me directly ( so I can pass your name on.

In solidarity
Michael OReilly, President
Canadian Freelance Union (CFU) | CEP Local 2040 |
Phone: 613-686-3389 | Fax: please arrange in advance
403 - 307 Euclid Ave. Thunder Bay, ON, P7E 6G6

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Support Palestinian Workers' Strike

On 16 June, 35 Palestinian workers at Salit Quarries in Mishor Adumim (in area C, east of Jerusalem, in the Occupied West Bank) began a strike. The workers, organized with the independent union WAC-Ma'an, are demanding an end to exploitation and humiliation, and insist on signing a first collective agreement.

Salit Quarries’ main customer is Readymix Industries (Israel). The total reliance of Salit Quarry on Readymix as their biggest and by far the most important customer puts responsibility on Readymix to make sure that their clients abides by labour laws and safeguards elementary rights for the workers of Salit. The workers call upon Readymix to urge the Salit management to terminate this unnecessary strike by signing the collective agreement with the workers and WAC-Ma’an.

In just 20 seconds or less you can send a message to Readymix HERE.

This is a LaburStart campaign in partnership with the Workers Advice Center, an independent representative workers organization, uniting workers regardless of nationality, religion, gender or the color of their skin.

This campaign is currently available in 8 languages, including Arabic and Hebrew.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Webwork Column Now Online

My regular column on internet resources, tips and tricks for unions is now online at the Our Times website HERE. Note too that if you scroll down the list of articles on the topic of organizing you'll come across a number that are internet-related.

Over time all columns going back to the first will be made available by Our Times.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Help Stop the Attack on Canadian Unions

As trade unionists we understand that the right to free collective bargaining without interference from the state is fundamental to what we do. When the state interferes on behalf of an employer our rights as workers are at stake.

In Canada a recently-elected right-wing Conservative government is declaring war on workers and their unions. Their first target is one of Canada’s most militant unions, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). We’ll spare you most the details, but it is clear that CUPW has been targeted. If the Conservatives can crush this union this will have an effect on the entire Canadian labour movement.

Among other things the proposed legislation doesn't just require the union and the employer to continue bargaining or to refer everything in dispute to an arbitrator. Instead it imposes terms and conditions of employment. You can read the bill in PDF form HERE.

Our CUPW e-campaign is within sight of the 10,000 messages mark. The Minister of Labour is saying that she has thousands of messages demanding legislation to end the strike and to impose new conditions of employment on post office workers.

Help give the union the ability to say ‘we have tens of thousands of messages demanding free collective bargaining’.

Join this campaign HERE and pass this link along to ALL your contacts!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Labour Video of the Year Winner!

IBEW’s Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style was the winner in this year’s LabourStart Labour Video of the Year contest. It got the most votes from amongst our judge-selected finalists. You can find all the finalists for this and prior years HERE.

Women Organizing Online and the End of E-Mail?

The need for organizing across both national and organizational borders is something the women’s movement has always recognized. The internet presents new opportunities for gender/workplace solidarity to develop.

Hate to say it, but Facebook is a good place to start if you’re a woman looking to connect, or a group looking to establish an accessible online presence. I did a search on “women in the trades” on FB and got back a quick 15 groups with anywhere from over 1,000 members to just one.

Not all sex workers are women, but all the studies say they are a large majority. And sex workers face huge obstacles in organizing. The Global Network of Sex Work projects knit together NGOs around the world that advocate on behalf of, or that organize, sex workers. See

A networking service for women employed as domestic workers around the world is provided by the International Domestic Workers’ Network. See A similar solidarity network, for home workers, is being built by the good folks at HomeWorkers Worldwide: WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) brings together workers’ organizations (including unions), academics and NGOs. See

Remember the World March of Women? I certainly do. I and some male comrades were assigned the rather bizarre task of making sure the Canadian edition of the march stopped where it was supposed to when the marchers reached Parliament Hill. By standing in front of something like 100,000 women and waving our arms at them. Like they were in the mood to take direction from four brothers. The movement behind the march continues at:

Women Working Worldwide (WWW) is about just what it says, but focuses mostly on building solidarity networks of women trade unionists all along the global supply chains: from the producers in the global south to the consumers in the north. See

E-mail is still the killer-app for online organizing, but it is overdue for an upgrade. Aside from many improvements to the way messages are handled by programs like Outlook and Thunderbird (the latter an open-source free mailer from the same good people who bring us Firefox), the only major change in memory was the move from text-only to HTML message content.

A change of some kind is coming. A recent survey of e-mail users in the U.S. by comScore showed a drop-off in e-mail use, the younger the group being surveyed. Younger users prefer SMS (texting) and more interactive messaging services like Instant Messenger and even Facebook’s internal mail. The issue is time and responsiveness. Younger users want one-stop shopping and seem to be headed towards a single, online platform for all their communications – like Facebook, when they’re at their desks. A smartphone when mobile.

I’d be suggesting we all panic and starting beating the SMS drum again, but there’s one hole in the comScore study: it measures the amount of time people in each age group are spending sending and receiving e-mail, but not the number of messages being sent. The time invested may be dropping, but, if my granddaughters’ communication habits are any indication, just as many messages are being sent by em-mail, only the language of texting is being used (r u getting this?). Still, it’s something to watch. Something that, if it pans out as comScore seems to think it will, would make life a bit more difficult for union communicators trying to reach members online.

More immediately interesting is the drop in the number of people using webmail services like Hotmail. Gmail is still seeing an increase, but not enough to compensate for the overall drop. Those users are going somewhere. And unless they are younger folks who are starting to acquire their own accounts at home or work as they grow older, it’s likely that they are becoming more dependent on environments like Facebook.

Incidentally, comScore also reports that Canadians are online more than any other nationality they monitor, and that we are, on average, the biggest users of YouTube and Wikipedia. The latter might be something you will want to note. Chances are that your union has a page on Wikipedia. Better check it out. You may find it has been the victim of some wikivandalism.

For those who don’t know, Wikipedia is the world’s largest, most comprehensive and most-consulted encyclopedia. It’s a collaborative effort amongst hundreds of thousands of active users who compose and edit all of its entries. Over the past couple of years a few national unions have found their entries to have been “edited” by persons opposed to positions the union was taking. Short of hiring a “reputation manager” (they do exist), checking your union’s entry on Wikipedia on an occasional basis is probably a good idea.

Still no solution to offer, but here’s yet another warning about the perils of having to rely on commercial platforms we don’t own or control. In 2009 Apple banned the Wikileaks app from its iTunes site, making its distribution difficult if not impossible.

Alex White is an Australian trade unionist and webhead who publishes his thoughts on unions and the internet online. Now he has made available a quick guide for unions in their use of social media. More sophisticated communicators won’t find much new here, but for the rest of us this will be an invaluable intro to integrated online communications. Free to download as a PDF file at:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

LabourStart Needs You!

We do. Really. In 2 different ways. So hopefully you will excuse the longer than usual message.

First, we are always looking for volunteer correspondents. Our volunteers don’t write the stories they post to LabourStart, but they do take a few minutes a month or a day to find stories on union and news media websites and to post those stories to LabourStart.

We make it easy for you to volunteer. Our database interface is simple and a couple of cut-and-paste operations is all it takes to get a story onto LabourStart.

More info can be found HERE.

Second, LabourStart’s services to unions are all offered at no charge. Our newswires, our e-campaigning, everything else as well – all free. The only fees we have ever charged are for registration at our global solidarity conferences. And even then we’ve worked to keep the cost to workers down and to assist delegates who would not otherwise be able to attend.

So each May we make an effort to solicit donations from unions and individuals in support of our work.

If you personally can make a contribution, great. But, better yet, take this request for assistance to your union. If your union connects with LabourStart in this way then all its members have. The result? Both LabourStart and your union are stronger. As important as the money is to our operation, building our network is even more important. A donation from your union does both.

Donations can be made by cheque (send a request for our mailing address) or online HERE.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

More Global Solidarity in More Languages

LabourStart already offers labour news from around the world in 27 languages on our news pages as well as through our various newswire servics.

The number of languages in which we can offer our online solidarity campaign service is more limited, in large part because translating campaign materials requires a greater commitment from our volunteers.

So it's always great news when we can announce that we've added another language for campaigning purposes.

This time around it's Arabic. See (and participate in) our very first Arabic campaign HERE.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

74 Videos in Global Labour Video Competition

74 entries from around the world are now being vetted by our panel of judges. Soon they will have their shortlist of finalists out and the final ranking will done by LabourStart’s readers using an online voting system.

Inevitably, some very fine videos won’t make it onto the list of finalists. Don’t miss any. You can see all the nominated videos HERE.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

LabourStart's 2011 Labour Video of the Year Contest

Online videos are becoming pretty common in the union world, as elsewhere. If you have produced one or if you have enjoyed a union video that you think deserves wider attention, nominate it for the LabourStart Video of the Year award.

Info on how to nominate, as well as last year’s winners and this year’s current nominees can be found HERE.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan: What Unions Are Doing and How You Can Help

This is taken from the text of today's LabourStart weekly mailing.

The international trade union movement has published a lot of information on the web - but chances are you don't know much about it.
Here are some of the pages you might want to check out:

* The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has a page with extensive information on the earthquake, tsunami and what followed. You can send messages of solidarity to our brothers and sisters in Japan from their website. It has also announced a donation of more than US$300,000 directly from the federation to help the people of Japan.

* Public Services International (PSI) has also issued a statement and has set up an aid fund to which unions can donate.

* The ICEM, which represents chemical, energy and mine workers -- whose members are currently involved in the efforts to prevent catastrophes at the nuclear power stations -- has a web page with details on how to pass on donations directly to the Japanese unions, who have set up a special bank account for this purpose.

* The International Metalworkers Federation also has detailed information on how your union can donate money directly to the Japanese unions and has issued a statement.

* Education International has set up a Japan earthquake and tsunami fund to which unions can contribute.

* The IUF (global union for the food and hotel sector) has sent a circular to all its affiliates which includes an email address in Japan to which solidarity messages may be sent --

* UNI Global Union has issued some statements, including one from its general secretary.

* Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) reported on a moment of silence and a visit to the Japanese embassy following an earlier statement.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and does not include what national union trade union centers, national unions and local unions have done.

If your union is affiliated to one of the global union federations listed above (and it probably is), please do check out what they are doing and how your union can be involved.

Please share this message with your fellow trade union members.

Appeal From Japanese Union

Message from Zenroren, Japan
March 14, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers around the world,

On behalf of 1.2 million Japanese working people, Zenroren wishes to express our sincere appreciation for unions and individuals around the world for the devastating “Tohoku Pacific Earthquake” which struck northeastern pacific region of Japan at 14:46 (JST) on March 11th, Friday. We also thank many international rescue teams working hard to save victimized people, which came from many countries like Korea, China, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, the US, UK, Germany or France and many others.

The earthquake struck Tohoku and Kanto region (northeast pacific side) was magnitude 9 scale and the biggest one in Japanese recorded history. As you see media reports, you can see overwhelmingly shocking scene particularly in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. Nearly 2000 deaths have been confirmed (March 14th), and it will certainly be larger unfortunately in the near future. Very sadly, some of our members and their loved one lost their life, colleagues, workplaces, their house and home town. Zenroren expressed the deepest sympathy and support for members and people in the damaged area.

Zenroren immediately set up the Disaster Response Committee for organizing relief and support activities by Zenroren and friendly unions, headed by President Daikoku on March 12th, and had a meeting on Monday 14th with representatives from industrial federations. We decided that right now the focus has to be on the loss of life and the injured as well as the rescue efforts and meeting the necessities of like, particularly for those evacuated. Since the damaged area is so huge across mainly 5 prefecture and several hundred local municipalities, there is still uncertainty for organizing possible relief and support activities by trade unions, however, our medial, transport or municipal workers unions have been already working very hard to every possible way to provide support for their members and people in the area.

As you also know, the accidents and leakage of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plants made the situation more complicated, and shortage of electricity will be heavy burden for economic activity in Japan. Zenroren recognizes we all need to work in solidarity with as a nation and working people around the world at this unprecedentedly difficult and challenging time.

With that, we call on our friends all over the world to send your solidarity message and financial contribution to Zenroren. Your message will be introduced in Japanese on Zenroren web page, and financial assistance will be used for our relief activities in the damaged area. We thank you in advance for your support and are trying our best to update our webpage and e-mail information to you so far.

In solidarity,

Zenroren Disaster Response Committee for Tohoku Pacific Earthquake

For donation to Zenroren relief activity, the following bank account is available.

Japan Post Bank

Intermediary Bank: Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas NY
Intermediary Bank Swift Code: BKTRUS33
Beneficiary Bank: Japan Post Bank
Branch: Head Office
Beneficiary Bank Address: 3-2, Kasumigaseki-1chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-8798
Beneficiary Bank Swift Code: JPPSJPJ1
Beneficiary Bank Chips UID: 427593
Payee Account Number: 00170-3-426272
Payee Address: 4F, 2-4-4, Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-8462, Japan
Payee Telephone: +81-3-5842-5611
Payee Contact: Keisuke FUSE, Director, International Bureau,
Intermediately Bank: Deutsche Bank AG, Frankfurt
Intermediary Bank Swift Code: DEUTDEFF
Beneficiary Bank: Japan Post Bank
Branch: Head Office
Beneficiary Bank Address: 3-2, Kasumigaseki-1chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-8798
Beneficiary Bank Swift Code: JPPSJPJ1
Payee Account Number: 00170-3-426272
Payee Address: 4F, 2-4-4, Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-8462, Japan
Payee Telephone: +81-3-5842-5611
Payee Contact: Keisuke FUSE, Director, International Bureau,

Please indicate “Earthquake Relief FUND” in communication space. Also, Zenroren will update its Labor Bank Account shortly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Note on Wisconsin's Labour Chill Moving North by Larry Katz

Larry is a retired CUPE Research Director. He circulated this recently. Well worth a read.

I just finished reading ‘Will Wisconsin's Chill on Labour Move North?’ by Konrad Yakabuski in the Globe and Mail (click HERE to see the article)

It’s a fairly good article for someone I expect is not a big fan of unions and has little direct experience with industrial relations and union culture. Yakabuski suggests that despite the comparative strength of unions here, this is likely to happen. Economic changes and prevailing fiscal constraints in the two countries are not fundamentally different. Governments and other public institutions here, as in the U.S., simply don’t have the revenue needed to maintain existing union rights, benefits and wage expectations, he suggests.

Increasing taxes on already over-burdened taxpayers is not a realistic option. Something has to give.

It is possible, of course, to argue that public employees did not cause today’s economic problems. It is possible to put forward more equitable alternative economic models of development. It is possible to show that the wages and benefits won by unions in the past have helped raise the standard of living for others. I expect unions will do this. But it won’t be enough, I don’t think, to stop the “chill” moving north.

We have two basic problems that have to be addressed if we are going to avoid Yakubuski’s prediction. I’ve said this before on many occasions, but I feel it is worth repeating.

First, unions in Canada have to acknowledge their own vulnerability, stop pretending they have the answers, start new conversations, and establish real democratic connections with their own members. Union members pay their dues, but most do not feel part of the union. A return to the ABC’s of union education and organizing is required. Respectful, open, probing conversations and the deployment of resources in new ways are needed if this is going to happen. Unions need to consider new ways of operating and organizing, and they need to do this with their members.

And secondly, union members in Canada have to reach out to taxpayer-citizen users of public services and programs and build a community of understanding and common interest with them, not merely when in reactive mode to defend a particular service being threatened, but as an ongoing strategic, democratic, political objective. Both go to the heart of what democracy under today’s conditions is in part really all about.

Both need focused, ongoing attention. The insufficient development of both has a lot to do with why unions have been (and remain) on the defensive. It also has a lot to do with many other problems we face as a country.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

2011 LabourStart Global Solidarity Conference - Istanbul, 18-20 November

Want to know more about trade unions in the Middle East? Thse days, who doesn't? LabourStart is hosting a Global Solidarity conference in Istanbul Turkey, November 18-20.

For the last decade Egypt and Turkey have seen the growth of some of the most vibrant democratic unions on the planet. Their views about what's happening in the region will be insightful. So mark the dates and start planning to attend.

We'll also have union people from Tunisia, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Jordan - as well as Kurds and Armenians in attendance. Folks from the USA, Norway, Finland, the Caribbean and Europe, Asia and Africa will be there.

Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Solidarity for Wisconsin Workers From Cairo

This photo by Muhammad Saladin Nusair from Tahrir Square in Cairo (download a copy HERE) complements the following speech by Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the independent Egyptian Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS):

I am speaking to you from a place very close to Tahrir Square in Cairo, “Liberation Square,” which was the heart of the Revolution in Egypt. This is the place were many of our youth paid with their lives and blood in the struggle for our just rights.

From this place, I want you to know that we stand with you as you stood with us.

I want you to know that no power can challenge the will of the people when they believe in their rights. When they raise their voices loud and clear and struggle against exploitation.

No one believed that our revolution could succeed against the strongest dictatorship in the region. But in 18 days the revolution achieved the victory of the people….

We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don’t waiver. Don’t give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights.

We and all the people of the world stand on your side and give you our full support.

As our just struggle for freedom, democracy and justice succeeded, your struggle will succeed. Victory belongs to you when you stand firm and remain steadfast in demanding your just rights.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LabourStart Canada Endorses Campaigns

This is a first for us. But a natural we think. Open campaigns for freer, easier, cheaper and faster internet access for Canadians. Their latest is the online petition against internet metering that has almost 420,000 signatures on it.

It occurred to us that as more and more services, especially government services, are available only online, internet access has become (well, OK, it always was) a class issue.

A working class issue.

ISP fees will soon be public service user fees by another name. Or already are: ask rural Newfoundlanders what it means to have your regional Services Canada office close.

So: working class issue + internet = a natural for LabourStart Canada. So we're endorsing

Take a look, join their campaigns.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Global Campaign for Labour Rights in Mexico

Join the global unions campaign to defend labour rights in Mexico. Takes 30 seconds or your money back. Just go HERE


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Compiled E-Postcards From Costa Rica

E-postcard #1

As always, excuse my inability to deal with the remapped Spanish keyboard.

The best laid plans and all that. The rainy season has been especially bad this year. We arrived in San Jose to find that the bridge to where we had planned on spending the first few days of our trip was washed out. Daughter-in-law Terri's and David's place. So a bit of a jumble and we found a hotel in San Jose. Yesterday we spent a morning in the hotel spa getting the flight kinks out and getting ready for the 3 hour drive to the house, only to find that we could get to a small town, Jaco, about halfway only. Anyway, we booked into a hotel here (Jaco) and arrived yesterday early afternoon.

Heavy rain is pretty near continuous. There were landslides on the way here, one quite large. Clearing them seems to be a continuous process. Cars are waved through one at a time; I think to reduce the deaths if it starts up again. There's a spotter placed on the road who gauges the condition of the mountainside above the road and waves you through. Our taxivan driver booted it across and we got here.

Though we can't go any further and judging by the condition of the river on the edge of town may have some difficulty getting out in any direction. The rivers are all HUGE and brown when normally they are tiny and clear. One river we crossed was solidly 500m wider than the bridge over it and 2 to 3km away the land was still underwater in spots. Crocs in short supply, just hope none washed into a village. TV is nothing but news about the emergency and shots of buses sliding down hills and bodies coming out of flooded homes, villages under mud and water. Boulders washing down hillsides and taking out cars and buses.

General observations> good roads, way better than Nicaragua. Obvious wealth disparity. Lots of walled compounds for mostly US residents. The countryside no more prosperous looking than Cuba we think, though more people have cars and there are higher/end shops for tourists and US residents. Cleaner and way more prosperous than Nicaragua. Clean generally. Little roadside garbage and little sold in plastic. Lots of glass bottles, including for water. Lots of obvious sex tourism. Checkout at the San Jose hotel, fairly high/end, was a line up of middle/aged men with very young women.

Jaco is a tourist trap, all tawdry and wall/to/wall surf shops filled with stoned young Americans in bare feet, even in the rain. In other words a wonderful spot to be stuck in. Am quite enjoying this bit of mild adventure. Terri travels a little more towards the high end than we do; she's being a great sport about it though. Just a bit of panic and some reluctance to get out of the van when we arrived *we're staying at the hotel Geri and I picked out for when we had actually planned to be in Jaco later in the trip. The Poseidon Hotel a bit above a backpackers spot, though they do have a dorm section for the younger crowd. Much fun and I think Terri has started to quite like it. It helps that she has hit it off with the bartender. Cute tiny pool. Have literally seen bigger hot tubs, but it has a three/seat swim-up bar. LOL. And we had fun last night naming and playing with David's huge skin tag at the bar. His 'mini me'. Made an impression I think.

The Bible *otherwise known as the Lonely Planet( describes Jaco this way "something of a wasteland in regard to cultural offerings, but it’s a great place to get hammered and do something you'll most likely regret in the morning". Kinda sums it up and make for great people/watching.

Losing Hydro now and then a bit of a concern if we're here for an extended stay. The power lines over the river on the edge of town were under pressure from a large tree that had been washed off the riverbank In fact a big chunk of the retaining wall was peeling away from the river bank. If it comes downstream in one chunk we'll lose hydro and the bridge at the same time I think.

But the extra moving of the luggage without benefit of hotel assistance has David and me vying for the right to title our memoirs My Life as a Bellhop.

The beer tasting is going well. Pilsen is tops to date. Imperial the most popular local beer but a bit heavy and no aftertaste to speak of, so a second choice. This stop is kinda like a snow day for grown/ups. We can hang, read, drink beer and eat really wonderful fruit and seafood guilt/free because there's nothing we can do about it. The math test will just be rescheduled. LOL

For the folks who live here though this looks to be something of a major disaster. Hard to describe the rain. Mostly a steady rain it now and then suddenly turns into a downpour. Woke at 0200 this am to the sounds of rain 'drops' the size of golf balls bouncing around. Thought it was continuous thunder.

Today's plan> walk in the rain long enough to wash yesterday's clothing, hang it to dry and then have a fish lunch, retire for a movie and then try the hotel's rooftop bar as there may be folks who hang there who haven't yet seen our little show with David's skin tag.

They deserve to, of course. And so they shall.


Starting to see lighter clouds and it hasn't rained in a few hours, so there's some hope. At least with the rain stopped there's a chance for some work to be done on the bridge we need to cross to get to the house, or, conversely, less of a worry about landslides if we decide to head back to San Jose.

Even if the bridge gets done soon there's no hydro or water at the house so plans remain a bit up in the air.

One thing for sure, being unable to walk around in the evening because we're tired of being rained on by then and having only a choice between a hotel room and a bar is having an effect both on our budget and our livers. When we have a better sense of whether the house is still an option we'll have to look at how to plan out the rest of the trip. Returning home early might be an option, but we of course took the cheapest tickets we could buy and so at the very least we'd be looking at an extra charge for the change. And with the tourists still apparently leaving in droves there might not be seats available in any case.

Some entertainment last night from a young US man down the outdoor corridor/balcony from us. He was going on at length to a Tica *female Costa Rican ( about how crude Americans are when shaving their nether regions, at least in comparison with Ticas/Ticas. It all seemed kind of innocent, not at all as if he was trying to get into her pants. Kinda cute really.

Fingers crossed please...


Since last I bored you all to tears we checked out of our hotel and, thanks to Terri and David, moved to the condo spot they had planned for their visit here next week. This will be a great help to us in trying to keep the damage to our budget under control as they've graciously and generously given us one of the bedrooms. The up side to the cost of this trip as it has developed is that we need no longer worry about having to fuss over whether we can afford to head to Cuba for x-mas. We can't.

Much different experience in the new spot. Modern condo overlooking the beach. All mod-cons and such, the washer and dryer being particular treats as when travelling we normally do laundry in a sink and hang our unmentionables all about our room. Adds a homey feel when far from the nest. :-) Something which at least a few of our fellow castaways don't do much of, judging by the stink of them a few days after the bridge and highway were washed away. Or perhaps they had sent their luggage ahead and were stranded with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I should have asked. :-)

Pools and an attached casino. An OK but rather pricey restaurant as well. But with a view across a garden and onto the beach which would make it worthwhile on a nice day. Clearly meant for US tourists as the prices are in USD, the thermostats in F, the TV channels mostly US, and all instructions etc. in English.

We went shopping yesterday to stock the fridge here. Two things worth noting. One an orange-flavoured beer (which I am ashamed to say I quite like), the other the prices. Not much less than what we would expect to pay at home except for the meat which was more expensive. Tourists and ticas with shopping lists in English at the Super Mercado. An open-air market at the south end of town that's clothes and fresh fruit and veg that we walked through but didn't shop at.

A shame we never got up to the roof bar at our last hotel as I'd plans for using a pen to add a face around David's skin tag and introduce it as Jimmy Durante (really his idea, though he has been talking about a tattoo for the same effect, only permanent).

Speaking of tattoos, it goes with the 20-something tourist population here I suppose, but the town has a number of tattoo/piercing joints. Even the middle-aged surfer chicks and dudes, of which there are many, are well-decorated. Also over-tanned and looking generally dissipated. Enervated. Dehydrated. Well-toasted. Under-embalmed.

The younger set is seen early in the day lying about or sitting on curbs clearly suffering from ecstasy hangovers. Until about noon there are almost as many of them as there are stray dogs roaming the streets. Which is saying something.

The older folks seem to go for different drugs as there are signs at every pharmacy (many of them here, way too many for a town of perhaps 4,000, half that permanent at most I should think) advertizing the fact that Viagra and it's various imitators can be purchased here in volume, at low, low, low (or so they say) prices, and all without a prescription.

No one has offered to sell me any weed. Unusual I understand.

The weather is supposed to brighten somewhat and a day by the pool with an audio book would be a very pleasant way to get some vitamin D. Which given the weather is one medicine in short supply.

Did I mention the sex shops? Do I need to? Or the razor wire. Most especially the razor wire around the daycare centres (several, must be free or subsidized or intended for tourist families; the former I suspect). Normally I find signs of that kind of security unpleasant, but if that's what it takes to keep the little buggers inside the fence, I'm all for it.

On a brighter note, there are a fair number of electric cars rolling around and at least two places that rent them. And the largest and largest number of election signs about the place are for the Greens. Lots of hummingbirds all over the place. Great cheap food at simple roadside stands/restaurants called sodas.

Worst news: the water remains brown and rescue operations continue across the country in spots. Still looks like we have little or no chance of getting to the house. Jaco has its tawdry charms, but even I will have exhausted them in another day or two I think. My iPod is loaded and we've some books with us, but if we remain stuck here for too much longer without pool/tanning/reading opportunities I expect we'll either have to pack up and head back to San Jose early or we will find ourselves reduced to simple card games and funny-noises-using-body-parts contests.

Something to look forward to. I've always been a dab hand with a moist armpit and a supple palm. !Hasta la victoria!

Best news of the week: Geri bought a baseball cap during the momentary appearance of the sun yesterday. It has a bottle-opener built into the brim.

Bought a Costa Rican cigar. Very nice. The Cubans I normally smoke are more expensive here than in metro Cobourg. Priced for US tourists I suppose. Sit still in a bar long enough and a nice man will try and sell you a box or ten of Cubans. Well, something resembling a cigar in a Cuban box at least.

Bye for now. If this is annoying any of you and you want off the list, do feel free to say so.


Bit of a gap there that you all likely appreciated. Terri´s house had no internet access.

We checked out of the condo complex in Jaco and headed to the house, passed a lot of road and village damage on the way. In some places the road was closed for several days because a landslide came across it on the way to inundating a village. Mud to mebbe waist height in people´s houses. Though on the way back in the same places the cleanup looked nearly done and furniture etc was up on roofs drying.

Some pretty serious road washouts, one near the house left a telephone pole hanging in space and required a significant shift of the road to one side.

The house great, very comfortable and all, but we got perhaps an hour of sun all week, right up to the day we left when of course it was bright and clear. Lots of hummingbirds, the odd toucan, iguanas and best of all, one litre bottles of beer. Best feature: plastic thatch on the rancho by the pool.

David and Terri drove us back to Jaco and we hopped a bus from there. Met a nice Dutch fellow who helped out, not least by letting Geri have his seat at the front of the bus to help with motion sickness.

Bus had no AC but the windows opened and the driver kept the door open most of the way. Better than AC really. Food vendors got on and off along the way, walking the aisle with a cooler and bagged goodies. Occasional reminders of Cliffside trips by bus in Italy when driver mopping sweat, drinking water, talking to friends, and, oh yes, driving. Lots of babies crying too, including me when we teetered on the edges of cliffs. Tica friend of the driver was I think making fun of me, not realizing that me leaning out to the left and well into the aisle was all that was keeping us from falling a zillion metres to the bottom of the cliff on our right. lol

With so long passing since my last postcard I am reduced to random notes:

1. Muni and cantonal elections under way. Seems like about 50% women candidates. Most signs are for the eco party and the libertarian party.

2. Lots of religious signage and big new prod churches.

3. Garage at Jaco condo had almost as many Hummers and Range Rovers as hookers.

4. David´s driving has improved.

5. Ceviche, apparently the national dish, is addictive (raw fish marinated in citrus, herbs added).

6. Canadian colony near Terri’s house. Surprised how much of a strain an English-French-Spanish conversation was.

7. Bus did 105km in 2:45. Very scenic, much fun, highly recommended.

8. Howdy honking not as du rigueur here as Cuba but still pretty common.

9. Kids sell fish by roadside like kids sell lemonade at home.

First impressions of San Jose (last time here were in the Best Western): it´s a hopping town. Lots of street vendors. And if Jaco a tawdry bordello kind of town, San Jose is like something out of film noir.

More on that later though.

Last bit: thanks Shelly for the suggested great little hotel. We have a mango tree right outside our door. Only problem is getting lost on the way to breakfast. 35 room hotel but many windy corridors with little gardens and common rooms all over the place Best $35 a night hotel since India I think.



Dying for a nap, so again in point form:

1. Fine debate yesterday re. the pros and cons of various guide books in the hotel´s internet cafe. LP wins again. Steves’ got toasted for being too US-centric (even the Americans found it hard to use re measurements and such. Book says miles, road signs say klicks). Frommers gets pooh-poohed for suggesting Quality Inns and Motel 6s.

2. Couple from Perry Sound made the mistake of driving into town. Older folks, find buses etc. intimidating. Kid on motorcycle rides alongside for a few blocks, stays right with them. Then leaves. Suspect number two then shouts from a car that the kid slashed their tires. They stop and get out to look at the tires and suspect 3 really does slash the tires. Suspect four plays the good samaritan while the car is emptied as she distracts them. Passports and all, and they go home tomorrow. Mebbe. After they got to hotel had to park on street and now have more damage. Another reason to get some fun from the bus.

3. Hotel breakfast fab, setting, in a courtyard garden, really nice. Homemade jams etc. really good. $9 extra over basic room charge to have two. Carambola (starfruit) juice to die for.

4. Geri peeked in the higher end rooms that were vacated today. Next time, if there is one, that´s what we´ll shoot for. Not that there was anything wrong with the one we got. But these like garden suites.

5. Hotel crowd are mostly LP types. Surfers through to seniors with multipocket vests. Mostly Scandinavian, bunch of Canadians, one or two US couples. Lots of birdwatchers. Can birdwatch over breakfast or in several of the hotel common areas. Funky mini rainforest run by retired hippies a few blocks away. Bizarre. Urban weird. Blotter acid has a lot to answer for, though this actually quite nice.

6. May have to trash my ´CR-no army since 1948´shirt as a border fuss with Nicaragua has ´cops´out looking a lot like infantry and arriving with their own helicopter gunships and artillery. Too bad, one nice myth gone...

7. No booze in three days now. No DTs either, so guess I´m good.

8. Holiday Inn on a nice plaza. Chock-full of middle-aged men from the US looking for sex. Sad.

9. Noticeably cooler here compared to the coast. Nice mornings, rainy afternoons.

10. Shopping fun, but abysmally so in the touristy bits. Cheesy. CR snow globes, t-shirts made in China etc. Regular shopping more expensive that I would have thought. No artisans in the artisan market. Just guys hawking Cuban cigars to Americans for twice what I pay at home.

11. Tica/Tico goths kinda fun to look at. Sweaty. Spoils the effect.

12. Lots of beggars.

13. Local bakery fab. Great pastries, sweet and savoury. Lots like it around.

14. Pensions discussion post-breakfast. US now at 72 for full benefits. >Didn´t realize. Oddly, same person lamenting this then trashes French for protesting increase in their retirement age.

15. Areas around the Mercado Centrale and the bus terminal are just hopping. Lots of street vendors etc. Smells a little off-putting though. But best part of central SJ for camera work.

16. Cast iron school building from the late 1800s.

17 Lots of razor wire, but beats Nicaragua in that there are no or few guns. And only cops have them.

18. Lots of ´great man´ statues and parks. No women.

19. Street-level air pollution a killer.

20. Whopper houses with whopper walls, lots of rag-pickers with carts with bike wheels with no rubber on them.

21. TV offerings on local channels a global collection of shows featuring breasts and old men. Old men with bad dye jobs.

22. Our corner store has a corner within it where the family running it lives and eats etc. Kinda of odd to be looking for beer (hey, I said I hadn´t drunk any, not that I hadn´t wanted to, it’s HOT here kids) and walking down an aisle and finding yourself in some one´s kitchen as they are having Sunday soup.

Bye. That´s it from CR