Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

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Eyjafjallajokull: it’s been no joke

The lack of blogging activity on this site last week was due to me being in Plzen, in the Czech Republic, at the 11th annual conference of the Otto-Brenner-Stiftung (the research arm of the IG Metall trade union) and the annual Editorial Board meeting of the South-East Europe Review, the journal of labour and social affairs in the region of which I am Associate Editor.

I was due to return on Friday… and finally managed to return home some fully four days later last evening, after a return trip involving detours to Nürnburg, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels, from where an additional Eurostar finally got me back over the physical barrier of the Channel. I won’t go into the full gory details of my own experience, but I thought I might make a couple of observations based on it:

1. It really doesn’t help travellers plan what to do in these situations when airports are advising that they are closed until 6 am tomorrow, then until 3pm this afternoon, then until 6.30 this evening… Such continual postponements give the illusion that the closures are likely to be short-term ones, when something on the lines of ‘travellers are advised to make alternative arrangements for their trip’ do at least add some certainty to the picture. Last Friday lunchtime and late afternoon, that would have been particularly welcome and I don’t think this is just with the benefit of hindsight.

2. Airlines whose retail ticketing arrangements are confined to call centres and online ticketing are in no place to offer assistance to stranded travellers. On leaving Plzen, my initial decision was to return to Prague to throw myself on the mercy of KLM (this blog has a policy of naming names, after all), which had conveyed me (and quite acceptably) from Glasgow to Prague in the first place. Except, KLM has an operation in Prague only at the airport, which was closed; in Prague itself, the address obtained that morning from the KLM website is a mailing address only. So, there was no airline mercy on which to throw myself. There was no presence in Berlin either, only at Tegel airport, and even at Schiphol, my initial survey of the departures area conveyed nothing of relevance to the airline itself. The lines to the call centres – as you might expect – were continually engaged. Simply, that’s not good enough. My ticket might have been (reasonably) cheap, not being ‘fully flexible’ and all that, but that doesn’t entitle the airline to abandon me. Essentially, this is exactly what their lack of presence in city centres does.

3. So, I’m not currently at all well-disposed towards flight companies and if I hear any more bleating about how much they’ve lost in all this, I will be forced, well, to write an official letter of complaint. I’ve waved farewell (or, at least, my credit card has, so far) to over €900 since last Friday – and that’s in additional accommodation and travel alone. No doubt the hoteliers, travel companies, restaurateurs and, to be fair, brewers of central Europe won’t be complaining too much, and I had a nice little break in central Europe – but that’s a transfer of resources I can ill-afford and the scale of the expenditure is worth far more to me, in relative terms, than whatever it is to the airlines. When did our society – and, I would venture, this is a pretty distasteful Anglo trait that wouldn’t be acceptable in much of central Europe – become so much more dominated by commercial interests than those of ordinary people?

4. Information has been very late in arriving. This is helpful (though today is the first day I’ve seen it) and today I’ve had two texts, one from a financial institution and one from my phone company, offering help with credit limits and with travel information. Only, I’m not now stuck in Europe (my phone company ought to know this!). OK, it’s not too late for others still stuck and not as lucky as me to get on an additional Eurostar. But where was it over the weekend, or early this week? Accessing travel information on the move was difficult this week, for a variety of reasons, but the information society seems to have failed, here. Perhaps I need to invest in a smartphone.

5. My train company in the UK seemed to have more first class carriages than usual relative to the numbers of second class ones, while the costs of my accommodation in Amsterdam looked to have been somewhat inflated. I may be simply wrong in the first place (and I had no problems getting a seat in second class); perhaps it’s our fault for not being better Europeans in the second, and no doubt the companies involved would claim the prevailing ‘laws’ of market forces. But, this looked like a bit of simple profiteering to me.

Enough of the brickbats. Bouquets, however, do need to be directed to the following people:

– the moral support of participants in the conference and particularly Bruno Sergi, Kemal Oke and Darko Marinkovic, whose initial comradeship kept me in good spirits after the evident policy FAIL of my decision to return to Prague

– Frau Furthe at Nürnberg station travel centre, who spent a good 20 minutes at her terminal in trying to get me home via a sleeper from Berlin and then by Eurostar (already by Saturday afternoon nothing until Tuesday, and then only first class and too late for onwards travel in the UK to Glasgow the same day) and whose best efforts were met only with rejection (I think she understood)

– the friendly staff at the information centre in the castle at Nürnberg (regards to Glasgow duly given over a glass of malt whisky at Queen Street station last night!)

– the good people at the art & business hotel in Nürnberg for coping with my attempts at speaking German and for providing me with a cracking breakfast on Sunday morning

– the staff of Zur Gerichtslaube in Berlin just for being very good at what they do (and the couple with whom I shared a table)

– Ellen Huiskamp, from the offices of Treinreiswinkel, in Amsterdam, whose cheerful assistance and reporting of a just released additional Eurostar revived my considerably sagging spirits on Monday afternoon, it seemed to her complete bemusement. And all conducted in faultless English, too (my Dutch not being up to much).

People’s essential humanity never ceases to amaze, as much as the ignorance of faceless corporations never ceases to surprise.

Blogging activity should now resume as normal …


Written by Calvin

21/04/2010 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dave Starsky… or Gordon Brown?

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OK. It’s Friday night and I find myself watching The Mentalist on Channel 5. I know.

I’ve some bronchial stuff going on and the (medicinal, of course) streams of whiskey are flowing.

But, is this Prime Minister Gordon Brown in ‘Red Scare’, tonight’s political-based episode, or is this Paul Michael Glaser, hero of 70s Saturday-night-before-Match-of-the-Day cop show and prototype for Life On Mars, Starsky and Hutch?

You decide.

Source: show promo photos, obtained here (not the best of photos, perhaps, but all I could quickly find in the circumstances)

Written by Calvin

26/02/2010 at 10:09 pm

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We chill aaht on iht…

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Photo: Islas Canarias

For the next week or so. Hoping not to bump into the lovely Louise and Jamie, though…

Written by Calvin

19/01/2010 at 5:15 pm

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Happy holidays…

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This blog is now on its holidays until early January. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all Connected Research’s readers and thinkers, and to all Connect members and reps: we’ll meet you further on up the road in Prospect!

The view from my office window this morning

Written by Calvin

22/12/2009 at 6:15 pm

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… Sunrise, actually.

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Those of you who know me won’t be at all surprised to find out that the picture below was of sunrise, not sunset. As usual, Calvin is geographically facing 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Still, back at my desk and ready to post!

Written by Calvin

07/09/2009 at 9:28 am

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… No, not on the blog permanently, just for the next couple of weeks…

Written by Calvin

19/08/2009 at 8:21 pm

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Connected Research: the mission

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This post is to introduce the blog for me, Calvin Allen. I’m a Researcher with Connect – the union for professionals in communications. Politically, I’m non-aligned but, with a lifelong involvement in working for trade union organisations, I’m interested in all issues affecting the labour movement. The blog is, however, written in a personal capacity.

Here, I’ll be blogging about what I’m up to and on the run of issues within the world of work that concern Connect members and representatives. I’ll be writing about, and linking to, the things I come across on the web in the course of my job and briefly commenting on what I think they mean in terms of public policy both in general and for the telecoms industry. You can expect to see stuff on pay and pensions, telecoms regulatory affairs, the economic situation, telecoms companies, the future of jobs in the industry and other exciting bits and pieces like that. So, there won’t be too much on the personal side – but then the intention is not to blog about me and my interests but about my professional life.

The blog is aimed largely at members and reps of Connect; it won’t repeat information provided directly by Connect in regular newsletters – although there may be some overlaps where there may be a wider level of interest in the issues raised. However, whether you’re in Connect or not, you’re welcome here.

Written by Calvin

13/05/2009 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized