Alitalia strikers get a dose of shock therapy

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The Independent Online
ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

Anyone used to the wearisome business of air travel in Italy will not be surprised to learn that Alitalia pilots have been staging a wildcat strike in the past few days, creating chaos at airports up and down the country.

What may be more of a surprise is that the Italian government chose to take spectacular and unprecedented action this weekend to force them back to work and that the whole country cheered as it did so.

The Ministers for Transport and Labour, Giovanni Caravale and Tiziano Treu, invoked a special law to end strikes that affect public services, declaring a ban on industrial action for a week.

At the same time, judicial authorities opened investigations on 340 pilots to challenge their story that they all fell ill with headaches at the same time - and sent doctors to check their medical condition. Tax inspectors also began checking pilots' records for irregularities.

The most severe response to a transport strike in the West since Ronald Reagan fired air traffic controllers in 1981 was effective, and by yesterday, Italy's airports were functioning normally.What was remarkable was the public response in this most union-conscious of countries. Even left-wing newspapers accused the pilots of "sedition" and of damaging Italy's image abroad, as they did not follow strike procedure and announce their action 10 days in advance.

The pilots' side of the story was barely told at all: that they are working harder and harder, sometimes with unfamiliar crews and cabin staff sub- contracted from an Australian company, as part of a restructuring package.

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