Sciopero Generale – General Strike

Tomorrow a general strike has been called by a major worker’s union in Italy called CGIL. From 9am to 5pm, September 6th will be a day without reliable transport (if any at all) and many other disruptions, country-wide.

Obviously motivated to protest the government’s recent austerity package, which is necessary to balance the budget, this strike will certainly have the same effects as all the others – more hassle on the public, more losses to business, and no change in government. The reason for this ineffectiveness is blindingly clear – those that are pulling the strings up top are not relying on the metro to get to work.

The purpose of this article though isn’t to get too political, but really just to inform the visitor what they can expect and what sort of things will or won’t be operational. Unfortunately, that touches a nerve deep at the root of this problem:

no one knows.

Seriously – dig around and see what you can come up with, other than the vague description copied from blog to blog about the hours involved a minimum train service guarantee (with no specifics). I think to fully understand this, we need to explain what makes a worker’s strike in Italy and how that differs from a worker’s strike elsewhere (I’ll compare the U.S. just for argument’s sake).

Let’s say you belong to a union in the U.S. and that union is having trouble negotiating with the employer of those workers. The union will decide to strike or not and as a member you will have to follow your union’s decision. There will be collateral damage, but the employer essentially will lose its workforce until it can negotiate with the union and satisfy their demands, at which point the strike will be called off. Now, that seems pretty basic. I didn’t even have to look that up on wikipedia – you can just sort of put those pieces together from what you’ve seen in the movies.

In Italy it’s different. In Italy, a union will call a strike, and whether you’re a member of that union or not, you have the RIGHT to participate and you don’t have to give any sort of notice to your employer that you won’t be showing up to work that day. It’s completely elective. If you work in a bank, or for the bus system, or in a cafe, or for a school or hospital, it’s up to you whether you want to exercise your right to strike. What this means is that there is nothing but collateral damage because most likely the employer has absolutely no control over whatever demands aren’t being satisfied. And since no one really knows who will participate or not in the strike (even the member numbers of CGIL itself won’t give you any indication of the expected levels of participation) the country really has no idea what will or will not be effected.

So there you go – you’ve come here looking for solid information, and sadly, you won’t find it. But at least now you know why.

It’s because as with many questions in Italy – there is no answer.

Will you still be able to take a train to the airport – yes. That much is official. Will you be able to take the train to Venice – who knows? Maybe, but it might be 10 hours late and jam packed because the other trains were cancelled. In the meantime, go follow one of the marches. Usually there’s a number of Italian, hippie/punk-rock types with dreadlocks swigging beer and someone from the communist party blasting the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” on loudspeakers from a car in the procession.

That surely beats a day at the office, right?

Update: ┬áValeria Latteri, who does Consulenza del Lavoro, and is an all around expert on such issues, has pointed me to the exception to this rule – the essential pubic services – which by law must be upheld. ┬áThe full letter of the law, for anyone who speaks not only Italian, but legalese, can be found here for your reading enjoyment.

by Steven Brenner

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