Sunday, April 22, 2012

Strike: You're Out!

So there's a strike? Relax and have a cappuccino!
One of the most maddening aspects of Italian culture that can easily ruin one's travel plans is the ubiquitous and too frequent sciopero, or strike. Strikes can involve the running of trains, planes, buses, boats or trams, the delivery  of goods or baggage at the airport. Pharmacists and teachers have strikes, students have strikes. If something is not going right, it's time for another strike. I've often been able to take them in stride, making alternate plans when the trains or buses aren't running, but I've never been able to understand the logic of the strike system in Italy. For one thing, strikes are usually scheduled and advertised ahead of time. And they usually do not happen during the times that commuters need to travel. But sometimes they do. They usually don't happen on Sundays. But sometimes they do. Strikes are annoying, inconvenient, and confusing. But most of all, they seem absurd, as they rarely seem to accomplish anything at all, other than a chance to voice one's discontent and cause disagi (inconvience). But do they affect any real change? Not happening! So, what's the point?

Ad esempio: last Tuesday, as I approached the train station on my way to Rome, a woman handed me a flyer announcing a Cgil (trade union) strike that would occur on Friday: trains, buses and trams in Rome would be affected. Fair warning. I knew to avoid going to Rome that day. However, I did make plans to go to Rome on  Sunday, for the birthday festivities going on this weekend. Later, as I was reading an online Florence giornale (newspaper), I noticed that a national transport strike was planned for Sunday, affecting travel throughout Italy. However, there was no mention of it in any of Rome's online giornali. I did an online search, and found that, indeed, a strike was planned from 9pm on Saturday until 9 pm on Sunday. It was also publicized on the Trenitalia train system website. But no mention of it in Rome's newspapers. Why? Was Rome exempting itself from the strike plans? Since it's quite odd for a strike to be scheduled for a Sunday, I decided to take a chance and go ahead with my plans to take the train at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. But when I arrived at the train station, the train to Rome was sorpresso, that is, cancelled. Other trains were running, but no train to Rome! I chatted with some men about it, telling them that I'd read there would be a sciopero. They didn't seem surprised or even curious: if anything, they seemed resigned. For Italians, an unannounced strike is par for the course. They happen, and you're stuck where you are. Nothing to do but deal with it.

No going to Rome today. Instead, I got back in the car and headed over to Frascati, and had a wonderful time roaming the streets of this lovely village on a quiet Sunday morning. Plenty of time for caffè and a pastry. Maybe this is what strikes are really all about...messing up your plans so you can find something better to do! Ingenious!

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