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JYA Journal—Notes From Abroad

Anna Newman ’09 writes from her perspective in Florence, Italy.

Another Day, Another Strike

JYA Journal with:

Maggie Mertens ’09

Cheri Hardy ’09

By Anna Newman ’09

One of the first words I learned in Italy was sciopero. It means “strike,” as in the phenomenon that occurs at least once a week in this country, when a disgruntled group of Italians decides to voice their discontent. During my year abroad, I’ve had plenty of practice using this new addition to my vocabulary.

One of the groups that most often goes on strike is the Florence city bus company ATAF. When the bus company strikes, it dramatically impacts my life in Florence, since I live too far away from the city center to walk to and from home every day.

The strikes of the city buses are usually announced at least a week in advance, in tiny blurbs in the newspapers stating that the buses won’t be running during certain periods of time during the day.

These bus strikes have become a part of my normal life, and I am no longer surprised when I hear news of yet another one. Next Tuesday, a strike has been called for three hours during the day. As far as which three hours, who knows?

This will be followed by another of ATAF’s favorite actions of protest: driving exactly according to traffic regulations. Instead of speeding when they are late, or casually running through a light that has just turned red, the bus drivers will obey all of the rules of the road. This simple act of obeying the law results in mass delays and long waits at the bus stops. However, not even obeying the law has proved effective for ATAF in getting its demands met. And so they continue to protest and to go on strike and probably will until I leave Italy in June.

The ATAF strikes are not the only Italian demonstrations that have affected my daily life. My third day in Florence, there was a protest by immigrants at Palazzo Vecchio, which we could hear during class right across the piazza. In late November, there was a massive public transportation strike throughout all of Italy, resulting in the cancellation of my flight to Brussels for the weekend. On the first day of the university class I audited, all of the university students went on strike and didn't go to class.

I have seen many more strikes and protests during my time in Italy; here, they are daily occurrences. Whenever Italians have complaints about something, they take to the streets, carrying signs and waving banners. Some of the demonstrations are relatively minor: high school students protesting the condition of their school building, students at the faculty of medicine at the University of Florence boycotting all classes while wearing lab coats and masks. Other strikes have dramatic impacts on life throughout the country: a strike of anesthesiologists, creating a back-up of surgeries in hundreds of hospitals. Or, just last month, a strike of the cargo transportation industry—tractor trailers refused to transport such essential goods as gas, fresh fruit and vegetables, instead parking in blockades on the highways, for several days, before a resolution was agreed upon.

Italians know how to make their voices heard.

As annoying as the constant strikes are, I can't help but admire the Italian spirit in these cases. They may not be choosing the most effective mode to effect change in their society, but no one can accuse Italians of being apathetic. And maybe, when I return to the U.S., I’ll remember my Italian experience and make my voice heard.

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