Sailing Out

The Nation invites you and your favorite columnists on a fun-filled Caribbean fundraising cruise (please ignore the environmental violations and underpaid workers).

It is ever the lot of progressives to struggle against the tide, so who would begrudge them a well-earned break? Certainly not The Nation. The left-leaning, champion-of-the-working-man weekly magazine is reserving spots for about 200 of those "who know, care about, respect, support, publish, write, and read" its pages to join its famed contributors in December on a weeklong Caribbean cruise aboard the M.S. Veendam.

An invitational letter describes the Veendam, run by the Holland America Line, as "a 'one-class' ship (of course!)." Which class? Nation passengers will drop between $1,800 and $4,600 each for the vacation.

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Unfortunately, the Veendam's mostly Indonesian and Filipino crew will see little of this money. Ruud Touwen, the Netherlands coordinator for the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), says "[Holland America] is one of the companies that makes the most profit and pays the worst of all cruise lines to its crew." According to the Indonesian seamen's union, Indonesian crew members aboard the Veendam average about $435 per month in wages (approximately $2.47 an hour for a 44-hour workweek), far below the ITF-recommended $1,200 per month. With overtime, which crew members almost always work, pay averages $728 per month.

To be fair, as union members, Holland America crews enjoy collective-bargaining rights. But low pay is not the only black spot on the company's record. In June Holland America pleaded guilty to two felony counts of discharging oily bilge from one of its cruise liners off the coast of Alaska, agreeing to pay a $2 million fine, the second largest ever levied against a cruise line for an environmental crime.

Is there an irony in the prospect of The Nation hammering out a progressive agenda on the deck of a potential ecohazard while underpaid, overworked seamen toil below? We asked some of the cruise-goers:

Victor Navasky, the publisher, dismisses criticism, saying the prime objective of the cruise is to reduce the magazine's six-figure deficit. "Progressive organizations shouldn't be disqualified from paying their bills," he says, adding that in the past, less glamorous fundraisers had failed to draw as much interest. Cruise tickets, by contrast, are selling fast.
"Beat the Devil" columnist Alexander Cockburn says that he is going with a double objective: To treat his girlfriend to a vacation and to enlist new readers to "a far superior publication"—CounterPunch, the muckraking newsletter he co-edits. As for the irony, he notes, "You don't have to go far to find contradictions on the left," adding that Mother Jones harbors a few as well.
Molly Ivins, contributing editor, says she is amazed that anyone would want to go along at all. "This isn't what the left does. We should be going to Haiti to build houses." But, she says, a trip to Haiti probably wouldn't do much for The Nation's deficit.
"Minority Report" columnist Christopher Hitchens anticipates vigorous poolside polemics, waving off charges of "champagne socialism" as "sneers that belong on the small-minded right."
"Republic Opinion" columnist Eric Alterman had no comment on the cruise's irony, saying only that the mark of success will be if it makes "lots of money for Victor." This, however, will not be his first jaunt on a luxury liner. Last year The Nation sent him to cover a cruise organized by the conservative National Review. Noting the attentive service that surrounded the passengers' every movement, he wrote in the October 6, 1997, issue: "The great thing about being a right-winger, so far as I can tell, is that you get to exploit people and feel good about it. Any self-respecting liberal would feel guilty being so well served by so many apparent Third Worlders."

Bon voyage!