The Strike Bug is Contagious

12 Dec

I’d really like to talk about something other than the problems we have here in Italy, but lately there seems to be a crisis.

Yesterday evening around 5 pm, I went to the supermarket to buy some things for dinner. Most of the shelves for perishable goods were nearly empty. I thought, maybe it’s because it’s the end of the day (although most people probably shop after work). Maybe this is a particularly popular supermarket (it wasn’t the one I normally go to). I didn’t think much about it, but there was almost no meat of any kind and the fruit and vegetable section was nearly completely empty.

I had heard something about “autotrasportatori” being on strike yesterday, but I didn’t understand the full impact until I watched the news last night. The entire nation of truck drivers has gone on strike, and instead of paralyzing a city’s transport like the taxi drivers did a couple weeks ago here in Rome, the truck drivers are capable of sending an entire country into a desperate state in a matter of hours. Apparently the cause of the strike is that the truck drivers’ unions “demanding greater financial help to compensate for the higher price of diesel.”

Here is an article about what’s happening. This is apparently a 5-day strike that started on Monday.

Gas stations are closed because the trucks haven’t brought gas. Supermarkets are empty because the trucks haven’t brought food. Highways are blocked because the trucks have stopped in the middle of main highways. People are losing days of work because they either have no gas in their cars to get there, or they’ve been temporarily sent home because they don’t have the materials to do their jobs.

I heard on the radio this morning that there are police stationed at gas stations now, because they are taking precautionary measures in case people decide to attack. There have been reports of people being arrested for stealing gas from parked trucks overnight. The article linked above stated, “Italian news reports said some drivers who refused to join the strike were attacked, and some of their vehicles were stoned and had tires slashed.” Clicking on this article, you’ll see pictures of truck drivers having roadside barbeques or warming themselves by fires on the highways they are blocking with their trucks.

The saddest part about all of this, besides the obvious economic damage and general chaos it is causing, is that there’s a certain sense of helplessness. Who protects the average citizen when things like this happen? This country is seriously in the hands of the truck drivers right now. The Prime Minister said, “The blockages constitute an unbearable violation of the liberty of citizens.” And then, this: “Prodi had earlier warned, according to ANSA agency, that striking was ‘not the way to confront problems.’

Fantastic. You’ve now expressed what we all already know. Now what?

“Although the walkout had been announced, the authority that monitors strikes in Italy said that blocking traffic and essential supplies was unlawful and urged the Transport Ministry to order the drivers to return to work.”

Keep on urging, because as of this writing, they won’t keep on truckin’.


18 Responses to “The Strike Bug is Contagious”

  1. Jeff December 12, 2007 at 10:11 am #

    People are talking about this right now over my shoulder. Some won’t be in work tomorrow or the next day at this rate. The big thing is the gas. We’re close enough to the farms to still get fruits and veggies but most places have no gas.
    I was thinking about blogging about this. Especially how smaller trucks have had their tires slashed. It’s insane.


  2. jessica in rome December 12, 2007 at 11:43 am #

    Dang you bet me to it haha! I can’t believe this! There was a line a mile long at the gas station in our neighborhood!

  3. Shelley, At Home in Rome December 12, 2007 at 11:57 am #

    Jeff: Good thing about being close to the farms. People here in the city are kind of stuck. I mean, if the strike ends by Friday I don’t think it will go to full crisis mode where you can’t find anything anywhere, at least at this point I see the green grocer downstairs is still open (although I don’t know if he’s getting deliveries), but still, think of all the fruits and veggies spoiling in the warehouses right now, and the aftermath in the production cycle. Maybe costs will go up afterwards for a while too, to compensate for the farmers’ losses, who knows? It’s incredible to think of the wide-ranging impact something seemingly so simple can cause. In any case, I’d blog about it. It would be interesting (and I’m curious) to see how it’s affecting the different regions of Italy.

    Jess: Take a picture of the lines. I don’t have any gas stations near my house, and the ones I could get to with a car are probably all closed. I saw some of the images on the news last night and it was crazy. I heard on the radio station this morning that “gas has arrived in Ciampino and there are already lines 4 km long!” Listeners were sending in SMS messages with things like “There’s a gas station open on Viale Marconi!” Totally OOC.

  4. Buda Baby December 12, 2007 at 12:30 pm #

    The San Francisco Chronicle’s online “Day in Pictures” has a shot of a supermarket in Rome:

    I wish I could send you a care package, but seeing how reliable the postal service is, I don’t think it would help you much! 😦

    Keeping my fingers crossed for you that this ends by Friday or before.

    DH and I were just having a discussion after reading this — why don’t workers in the US, who seemingly have MORE to strike about (eg, no pensions, no job security, dwindling to no benefits) than the average worker in Europe strike more? And when they do strike, why are they so ineffective by comparison? Just about everybody and their uncle is going to strike here in Hungary on Monday. Maybe I should take a hint from what’s going on in Rome and get some extra bread, veggies, and TP in the house.

  5. Giulia December 12, 2007 at 12:43 pm #

    My husband saw a truck (that was delivering new cars) with all four of it’s tires slashed. I went shopping this morning and even though I was happy that I got from point A to point B in record time, (no trucks on the road) it was eerily quiet. From what I could see, the store (Carrefour) was pretty well stocked. All the gas stations around here are out of gas. Just about every station had cars weaving in and out of them in search of gas. It’s bad. 😦 I hope there is a solution to this problem SOON!

  6. Shelley, At Home in Rome December 12, 2007 at 1:54 pm #

    Buda Baby: Thanks for the link, that’s a great shot and kind of shocking to think that it might represent the general situation at the moment. I managed to get what I needed last night, but the selection was seriously picked over. I think gas is really the biggest problem for people at the moment. I’m blessed in that sense because living downtown means I don’t really *have* to drive anywhere. But a thought does come to mind… how do the public transport vehicles get gas? I’ll have to look into that.

    Giulia: I’ve heard that the traffic situation improved today but like you mention, gas is the big crisis now. Some people just can’t afford/manage not to take their cars to work, especially when you consider that Rome’s public transport is not a reliable alternative for many people, because it either doesn’t service where they live, or doesn’t reasonably service where they live in order to get them to work at a decent hour.

  7. Shelley, At Home in Rome December 12, 2007 at 1:58 pm #

    I just read that there’s another public transport strike planned here in Rome for Friday. Buses and trams will be stopped (“striking”) from 8:30 to 5 pm and then from 8 pm to midnight. Stop the insanity!

  8. Giulia December 12, 2007 at 2:15 pm #

    Had to giggle at my own comment because I typed “all four” tires. I meant all of the tires. Those trucks have lots of em. And I totally agree with you… stop the insanity!

  9. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy December 12, 2007 at 3:40 pm #

    I feel totally isolated from all this right now – we came back from Puglia on Monday morning with a huge bag of food, and I ride my bike to and from work every day – so I didn’t even notice this was a problem until some of my commuting colleagues aren’t coming into work and all of these articles now!


  10. Michelle December 12, 2007 at 3:47 pm #

    I’ve been in the house with this killer cold/flu so I also haven’t seen the effects. But on the news today, I saw that Fiat workers were being left at home because parts haven’t arrived and they can’t work – thus they don’t get paid for days not worked, and right before Christmas too. They also said that the panettone companies are ‘in crisi’ because they can’t get the panettone out for Christmas. Some panettone companies are saying they’ve stopped production on panettone and all advertising. Kind of a silly example to be on the news (“Panettone crisis!”) but it really does go across the board. What I’d like to understand is if the truckers have valid complaints or not. I don’t have lots of sympathy for some of the other industries that have been on strike lately. They’ve had things too good for too long (being able to monopolize the market and overcharge/rip people off for crappy service), and I’m ready for things to be liberalized here. Not sure if that has ANYTHING to do with the trucker strike, but I hope they stop soon.

  11. Judith in Umbria December 12, 2007 at 3:56 pm #

    What bothered me the most was the report that ambulances and hospitals are not being served. I find that immoral.
    They think diesel has gone up? Look at benzina! Fortunately, there was a fill-up at my station, and it is a big one, the last possible day before the strike, but I’m conserving, because what if a neighbor needs help and has no gas?
    We don’t have food probs because we all have freezers and put things up during the season. A person can live with less, just not with nothing at all, which is a lot of city dwellers with Igloo cooler sized fridges.

  12. anna l'americana December 12, 2007 at 7:41 pm #

    “…urged the Transport Ministry to ORDER them back to work”? Right. That’ll work. Strike’ll be over in no time (not!). Is that really how the Ministry of Scioperi (tee hee) handles this type of thing? Do I hear the sound, yet again, of a crumbling government? Even Berlusconi (God – and you all – please forgive me for invoking) would know better than that.

  13. Kelli December 12, 2007 at 9:05 pm #

    Wow! I hope this gets resolved quickly. While I’ve never seen anything like this in the US, I can’t travel to Bolivia without getting involved in strikes one way or the other. They also very quickly cripple the country.
    Eek. Hey Italian Truckers!! Bring food to my buddy Shelley! Pronto!

  14. nyc/caribbean ragazza December 13, 2007 at 4:15 am #

    Che casino. I hope the strikes end soon!!

    Buda baby after the air controllers strike was shut down during Reagan’s term, the unions have never been the same. I remember when I was younger there would be transit, teacher’s or garbage strikes that would bring NYC to it’s knees. The last transit strike lasted less than a week.

    Many states in the U.S. are right to work states and the unions have very little power.

  15. J.Doe December 13, 2007 at 4:39 am #

    That is terrible that the hospitals and people can’t get medicines. I don’t care what grievances those truckers have, that is just plain terrible and there can be no reason good enough to justify such doings. How can they hold an entire nation hostage when they are upset at either the government or their bosses? That is terrible. Does anybody in Italy have sympathy for the truckers now? Maybe there would have been if they didn’t do this. Somebody should just fire the instigators of this strike and the truckers having barbecues on the autostrada need to go to jail where they belong. The strike is just criminal!
    It’s a terrible situation.

  16. Gina December 13, 2007 at 5:04 am #

    Cose da pazzi! Too bad the writers are on strike in the US–They could have a blast mocking this Italian phenomenon on Saturday Night Live.

  17. Rachele January 12, 2008 at 9:05 pm #

    I heard about this strike. I just recenly came back to Chicago to apply for work papers for Roma and my fiance came for christmas here and was telling me about this strike. He was even shocked. As if the bus strikes arent enough of anin convenience or if not that its the underground stopped. I couldn’t imagine getting home from work,stopping off at GS and finding there is no food. Its like the twilight zone.thats about the time(as many similar,funny moments of mine in Roma) I would have been standing alone,looking around with a stupid look about my face and actually say aloud” Are you freakin’ kidding me”….followed by a laugh.But, I LOVE ROMA

  18. Ken NE USA January 17, 2008 at 9:00 pm #

    As to a question of why this doesn’t happen in the US. Well there are several reasons, mostly new laws and fear from government/police I guess. But I can tell you as a trucker of 7 yrs that there are talks daily everywhere you go and that most likely this will happen in the US in the future. The major setback in the US is that there seems to be more non-union truckers than union, but if it can be organized and people convinced to cooperate, it will happen. As for the one comment about people will not respect the truckers because of this, most likely it is because of a lack of respect from government and citizens that it came to this. If your truckers are like ours, this is the last thing they want, they obviously had no other recourse. Remember, that truck is slow because it is loaded heavily and the trained / experienced professional is working their ass off for practically nothing to get your products where they need to be. Give them some respect and if you get the chance tell them thank you. Thanks and good luck.

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