Monday, October 14, 2002

Three Strikes You're Out

Fall is strike season around these parts. I don’t know what it is about this country that makes us so strike-prone. I understand that Italy is pretty strike-crazy too, so maybe it’s the sun baking out of our brains any remnant of good sense.

Whatever it is, it’s like clockwork: come the first rains, the local authority workers strike, the government workers join in and close down the Income Tax Authority, the Interior Ministry, the Employment Service and more. They stop picking up the garbage and the kindergarten assistants (though fortunately not the teachers who are paid by a different ministry) walk off the job. This year’s strike involves 100,000 local authority workers and 40,000 government employees.

I suppose we should feel blessed: there was no main school strike this time. That one is a real killer. One year, we raced back to Israel from a vacation with family in the States, intending to arrive just before school started. No school. For three weeks. Kids were bouncing off the walls with virtual jet lag that lasted forever.

As the strike grinds on, unlikely solutions are proposed: the strike is a security risk and should be ended by emergency order. With no garbage collection, bombs could be waiting in every trash can, set off no doubt by the countless street cats inhabiting those same bins. Two years ago, the strike spanned Rosh Hashana, totally negating the holiday greeting “may you have a sweet new year.”

As bad as it is now, it gets really hairy when the sympathy strikes start in. The worst is the airports authority, which one year shut down all flights for days on end. That was at a time when I was traveling a lot for my start up, and we were scheduled to make a presentation on a stage at a big conference in California. People were camping out at the airport, hoping for an open window. I stayed at home until it was announced that one flight would be allowed to depart, an El Al flight on Motzei Shabbat. Which just happened to be my flight. It was enough to make one believe in God. Or El Al.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the workers. On the contrary, I think that most employees in this country are woefully underpaid, teachers in particular. But I remember when my father, a newspaperman at the San Francisco Examiner for 35 years until he retired a few years ago, went on strike. All the city's papers were shut down for what seemed to me as a young boy to be an eternity. I imagined my father walking the picket line and collapsing while evil taskmasters forced him to march forever onward with nary a milk and cookie break. (I had a vivid imagination.)

The night before this latest strike opened, Jody got a call from the kindergarten. They weren't going to be able to open gan the next day unless the parents volunteered to take turns as teacher’s assistants. It’s not quite a picket line, and Jody’s work schedule is flexible, so she stepped up to the plate. Aviv was ecstatic. His mother was coming to be his teacher. He even got dressed by himself and he ate a double breakfast of Cini-Mini's and toast. He raced out the front door, and Jody had a blast: she got to observe the gan in action. It was a unique opportunity, a real blessing in disguise.

And there’s one more blessing: the meter maids are also on strike. So, while many of the city's offices may be closed, there’s lots of free parking outside!

Anyone else have any good strike stories? Click the Comments button below and leave them.

Click here for more coverage on the strike.

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