Have you ever gone on strike? If you’re American, I bet you haven’t. If I had to guess, I’d say that 99% of Americans have never walked a picket line, professional athletes notwithstanding. But in Italy, and other parts of Europe, strikes are an every day part of life. If no one in Italy is on strike, it is indeed a very odd occurrence, perhaps on par with the arrival of Haley’s Comet or a cruise ship lounge act that doesn’t make you want to vomit.
Yes indeed, the Italians know how to strike. They’ll strike if someone suggests that perhaps it isn’t quite right for them to have 18 weeks of paid vacation, 22 weeks of sick leave and 59 public holidays per year; they’ll strike if their quota of espresso breaks is reduced from 11 to 9 each day; they’ll strike if the price of gelato is increased in their workplace cafeteria. The only time they definitely won’t strike is if they are already on break, vacation, sick leave or workman’s comp.
This morning, we rushed off a cruise ship in Savona and onto a jam-packed public bus, hoping to catch a connecting train to Milan. There were no available seats, only swarms of passengers coming off of cruise ships with enormous suitcases, so we were cheek to jowl with our neighbors. But as we tried to exit the port, we were blocked by a large group of striking port workers, brandishing banners.
As I stood on the hot, crowded bus wondering when or if the striking men would disperse, I couldn’t help but notice how tolerant everyone was. There were three police officers standing by simply shooting the breeze, completely untroubled by the fact that these men were blocking our exit. Our bus driver refused to toot his horn or even get close to the men to at least make them uncomfortable. The North American passengers on board the bus hooted and hollered but the Italians were nonplussed. Oh, there’s another strike. What else is new?
After 15 or 20 minutes, the men eventually dispersed, but by the time we got to the train station, our train was sold out and we had to wait 2 hours for the next one. We had a long day of train travel and by the time we arrived at our destination, our two-year-old son, James, was feverish and acting sick. We have train tickets for Perugia tomorrow but wanted to change them to give him some time to rest and recuperate.
The concierge at our hotel looked into changing the tickets and reported back that he had good news and bad news.
“The good news is that it is technically possible to change the date of the ticket without a penalty,” he said. “But the bad news is that the train workers are on strike, so they said they won’t change it.”