Italian Strikes – Can You Handle Them?

Italy and strikes. Strikes and Italy. It’s a traditional couple, is something to which Italians are quite used to. But you may not, and the strikes in your country may be a bit different than the Italian ones, that are quite common indeed. That’s why we are writing this little guide for you – to help you understand the Italian way in strikes and to give you some sound advice and tricks to escape such blockage.

In Italy, strikes are much more common than one can be used to, and can well affect your staying – especially the ones blocking public transport circulation. So while in Italy, just try to pay attention to media and public transport ads, that are usually pinned at the entrance gates of the metro stations – Look out for the word “Sciopero” (strike) or “servizio sospeso” (service interrupted)! It’s really useful to know exactly when and how a strike will take place. General strikes could block the public offices as well, so pay attention if you need to visit one (for example, a post office to send some stuff back home).

Most of the time two or more unions strike, at different times of the day and in a different way. Sometimes they are rescheduled or canceled almost last-minute. All this may sound tricky and annoying, but you’ll make it – you just need to pay attention to the hours in which workers will be on strike. In fact, in Italy strikes are very well defined – this mean that they do not go on and on until the union is satisfied or has reached an agreement or an improvement to worker’s conditions. It has a start and an end – when it’s over, it’s over, and you’ll be able to move around as always. It may take a bit longer to get things on the move again, but don’t worry, they’ll move eventually!

Usually strikes are announced well in advance (there’s a complete “real-time” strike calendar you can check here http://www.commissionegaranziasciopero.it/ . Check the date column –“data”; then where the strike will be – “dove”; the “sciopero” column will tell you who is striking, so you can see whether this can affect you), so pay attention and you’ll be able to dodge any difficulties, with a bit of patience and some simple planning.
Checking the newspapers or the public transport websites (metro, buses, trains) every now and then, and asking the concierge of your hotel or B&B, are all smart moves! In this way, you’ll not get trapped by surprise or caught off-guard. If the sciopero is labeled as nazionale (national), then it affects the whole country.

You can also check http://www.easytravelreport.com/, which is not as complete as the other website, but it’s in English!

The best thing to do, when you know that there will be a strike, is to plan in advance what you need to do, and were you need to be at what time – as you can imagine, it’s better to move a lot earlier than you would do in a normal situation! It’s better to wait fifteen minutes more, than be late at an important appointment!

 Streets are likely to be very crowded, as all the people that usually count on the public transport to travel will take the car so to avoid any problem and be safe. That’s why a car – be it a friend’s car or a taxi – will be your first thought.
Having many more cars around in the city can result, of course, in horrible traffic jams. Do not rely on taxis too much, though, because it could be quite hard to get one due to high demand – you better have a B plan, just in case.

It is also true that not all transport strikes will totally block the city – there are some trains that are guaranteed even in case of strike. You may want to check Trenitalia’s website – http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=8a83d78c02244310VgnVCM1000008916f90aRCRD – It’s in Italian, but you can sort it out easily. There are pages for every region – you will get a table. “Staz. Partenza” column contains the name of the station from where the train departs; “Staz. Arrivo” the arrival station; “Ora Partenza” the departure time. The last column contains any notes on the train, whose number is in the first column.

Plus, there is always someone, especially among bus drivers, who works like a normal day. The situation is different with the metro stations, whose main gates may be closed. In that case, you have to wait until the strike is over and somebody opens them again. If you find the metro station doors opened during a strike and nobody stops you, it just means that the service is running, maybe slower than usual, but it’s running, so you can enter and wait for the next train.

Moreover, every strike has a sort of pause in which the service is guaranteed – usually in the peak hours, like early in the morning, so that students can go to school and adults can reach their working place, and again later in the afternoon, so that people can go home once they are done with the working day. Indicatively, those safe hours are 6am to 8/9am and 6pm to 9pm, but always check for more precise information.

More words to which you should pay attention to are “manifestazione” and “corteo” – as they both indicate people gathering and marching to protest against something or to express their ideas. When a manifestazione is on, it’s likely that the streets will be packed for some hours, and that buses will not be able to pass. They could change route or run a modified one for some hours or until the demonstration or the march is over. Once you’re aware of what’s going on, it’s easy to avoid the hot spots and move around – nothing can stop you! In fact, the route taken by people in the manifestazione will be known well in advance, so you just should avoid that part of the city for the time being, if you can. This will make things easier and safer for you.

So once you know when a strike will take place, you can decide to change plans or to modify them accordingly, so to avoid the worst – stay a day more, leave a day earlier, plan how to move around or away from the city or the country in an alternative way, relax a bit and take the day as it comes – just try to avoid stressing out for something that will affect, in most cases, just a day.
The next day everything will work just as usual, so… don’t panic!