There are certain things that we all consider necessary in the big smoke. Transport, medicine, sanitation, utilities...these are the kinds of essential services that our cities tend to revolve around. Some get it right- and that's often a matter for Monocle or whoever to decide as to how well- and others have problems with even the basics.
Having spent a really long time in Italy (and Rome in particular)I can tell you that some cities here get it right and that some...um...don't. Or can't. But if it's any consolation nobody seems to be happy about how things are run: those in service and those who use service are all often miserable.
The most noticeable thing that goes wrong in a place like Rome is the transport. Let's face it. It's really shit. If you were to set your watch by the next due bus you'd be the new Marty McFly. Honestly, it's the worst public transport system I've seen in Europe, but whatevs. One of the annoying layers of transport in Rome is that you often have to factor in strikes on a Friday (or Monday). Because transport is legally deemed an essential service though, even on a strike day there has to be a minimum service on offer and a minimum notice period advising of the upcoming disruption.
Rome's traffic is like those annoying accordions that you get held hostage to on the metro. It expands, gets noisier and becomes more unbearable on any day there's a strike when services are limited to the essential.That happens on days when things have been reduced to a bus an hour or, as often happens in Rome, morning and evening peak with a limited service and the rest of the day with virtually zilch.
Why the long talk about the minimisation of services to their essential? Because in recent days a new law has been passed in Italy. One which now deems cultural sites- or rather, access to cultural sites- as being essential.
Going on strike in a country like Italy where working conditions can be testing to say the least is something that happens in nearly every sector. Last week supermarket staff were on strike. But what made the news was a day a few months back when the staff at sites like Rome's Colosseum also went on strike, making the city's landmark symbol off limits to tourists. Workers in the arts and heritage sector here have it rough. There's very little money invested in sites and their upkeep, the average Joe works for a pittance and pay is often backpaid in many cases. But in going on strike, the cultural industry workers did something that not even the transport workers can. They literally robbed visitors of the opportunity to visit a site that many would have purposely made the trip to Rome for.
And in doing so, at least in this version of the interpretation, they harmed Italy's international reputation more than the endless train, airport and sanitation service strikes ever could.
The Italian government has decided that this is unacceptable. And as such, a very clear majority decided to pass a law that now renders cultural sites as part of the network of essential services in the country. This means that workers, regardless of how their issues may differ to those in the transport or other sectors, will now be required to file notice of their intention to strike, communicate that, and allow for some contingency which will allow the sites to remain open even on a strike day.
Is it a good thing? Tourists may argue yes. Nothing like a certainty when you're doing the greatest hits tour. But for workers in a field where competition for roles is fierce, remuneration is poor and there's a murkier distinction between public and private operation, does singling that sector of the tourism industry out as being essential really count as being fair or lawful? Enshrining the erosion of their bargaining power into law seems a little heavy handed in my books. Particularly because for all the wealth tourism brings into a city like Rome, I would hazard a guess that most Romans wouldn't see access to those kinds of sites as being part of the essential services the city needs to offer- particularly if the end benefit goes to foreigners rather than the locals who, for better or worse, manage the sites.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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