Sicily on Strike!

Today marks the fourth day of the trucker’s strike on the island of Sicily.

“Fourth day?” you ask. Me too. I didn’t find out about it until yesterday. After I had spent two days wondering why so many people were lined up to buy gas. Apparently, nearly all truck drivers on the island had arranged for a protest the week of 16-20 January, against rising fuel costs, taxes, and austerity measures imposed by the new Italian government. They have used their trucks to blockade ports in Catania, Pazzollo, and Palermo, keeping people in and goods out.

The farmers, fishermen, and refinery workers have been inspired by the truckers, and have joined their ranks, using farm tractors and other vehicles to close roundabouts and toll gates all over the island.

This is an enormous pain, since Sicilian transport engineers dropped out of school right after roundabout day.

This has quickly led to shortages of a lot of resources, especially dairy and other perishables. Also in short supply is fuel, since no fuel trucks are making deliveries. The entire region of Palermo (like a county) is completely out of diesel and gasoline as of this writing. That’s 2 million people without gas in their car.

Getting around has gotten difficult as a result. My drive home tonight took an extra half hour, as I had to drive slow to conserve fuel. Many others are having the same idea, and I’d say the average speed on the autostrada has dropped at least 40kmh.

It’s not all bad though; there have been a few moments of hilarity through it all. The farmers, truckers, and fishermen clogging the roundabouts? All they want is to make a personal appeal. To you. Each and every one of you. One at a time. This of course means that traffic gets backed up for EVAR, but in a way it’s kind of endearing. There’s not really any organization, no shouting, they just want to tell you how their lives are being made difficult by their government.

The first time I came up to one of these roundabout protests was yesterday, and they had used tractors to restrict traffic down to one lane. They stopped each car, handed over a flyer, and babbled something at the driver in Italian. Sometimes the conversations lasted a couple minutes.

I got a little nervous, as back home protests where blocking traffic is involved a) rarely happen and b) don’t go well. I locked my doors, but figured that if an angry mob wants to give you a flyer, you darn well better take a flyer. I rolled down my window a bit and took one, and made sure to say thank you in English. That saved me five minutes of Italian that would have been way over my head, and so I was on my way.

The flyer I was handed by the angry mob.

The next day, however, my bumbling American ruse didn’t have the same effect. Instead, they brought over the designated English speaker, who tried his hardest to get his point across.

Thankfully, when not on coffee, smoke, breakfast, lunch, smoke, afternoon coffee, or dinner breaks, the Carabinieri are out helping to keep traffic moving. They don’t really interfere too much; it mostly seems like they’re out there to keep people honest. It all seems very… ruly. Which is a good thing when you’re a foreigner in the midst of a protest.

Hopefully things will stay that way. Their strategy seems very effective – and peaceable for now – even if it doesn’t have the blessing of any of the union groups that normally represent them. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

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