Strikes in Italy
Strikes in Italy are unfortunately common, and they often involve the transport sector. They are almost invariably announced in advance, which at least helps alert travellers to plan around the dates of strikes. Occasionally, to make things more complicated, they are cancelled or postponed at short notice - but if a strike is programmed, tourists would do well to be prepared.
The Italian word for strike is sciopero, pronounced SHOPero (the plural is scioperi). Advance details can be found on various websites:
> Ministry of Transport
> Sciopero Metro strike diary
> Italy Heaven blog - occasionally we feature news of major strikes on our own blog or Twitter feed. This will not be a thorough guide, though, so check with the two websites above.
There have been many rail strikes in Italy over the last few years, and they generally take place at the weekend, from Saturday evening until Sunday evening. The law guarantees a minimum service, so some trains should still run. By hunting around the FS website you should find - usually in their Italian language 'news' section - a timetable for strike dates, listing which trains are cancelled (cancellato) and which are confirmed (confermato). I've booked a seat on a 'guaranteed' service and travelled without problems. But caution is advisable - when I was downloading the online strike timetable, I found the original FS filename for the document was 'let's hope'. If the strike is restricted to the rail sector, then you could investigate alternative means of travel such as the buses which link most major towns.
There are also frequent strikes of urban transport. Sometimes these last just four hours, at other times they will continue for 24 hours. Again these scioperi are generally announced in advance, and many city transport authorities will try to negotiate a service during the rush hour to help commuters. Details are generally published on the websites of the local transport firms, although you may need to study them with the aid of a dictionary (see our links panel).
A large proportion of Italy's air travel strikes in the last few years have involved Alitalia, the perpetually-troubled Italian national airline and I would advise travellers to avoid booking with them. Sometimes there are more general strikes by ground staff and by air traffic controllers, and unfortunately there's not much travellers can do about this other than be patient. These strikes usually last several hours; sometimes they simply delay flights, at other times they can lead to cancellations. I've actually found the budget airlines and small regional airports to be the most reliable.
Other strikes in Italy - by schoolteachers, for example - probably won't affect travellers. Occasionally strikes by state employees may affect museum openings. Most of the other businesses serving tourists, though, are commercial ones and aren't likely to injure themselves by walk-outs.
Our best advice
Even with the best planning, you may still find yourself caught out by strikes - regional ones, perhaps, or unpublicised walk-outs. As usual in Italy, all you can do is to be patient and adaptable. Sit out the strike in a good restaurant; resign yourself to changed plans. At least you are experiencing a real taste of true Italian life.