La grève, Dutch style

Earlier this week it was announced that there would be a public transportation strike in Amsterdam and Utrecht. It would involve the GVB, the Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf, a private corporation owned by the City of Amsterdam, and the provider of municipal public transport. The strike would affect the metro, trams and buses but not – critically – the free GVB ferries that run across the IJ River.

I use any number of these modes of public transport daily, so I was interested in the details of the strike. It was planned for a Thursday morning, from 5AM until 8:30. As in, 8:30AM. That’s right, it was a 3 1/2 hour strike. Mon Dieu. This struck me as a particularly Dutch way to go on strike. Just long enough to cause some minor disruptions, but not enough to really screw up anyone’s day. A rather polite strike.

Last weekend, friends traveling by train from Paris to Amsterdam were delayed a day when the Belgian train workers declared a 24-hour strike. And if you’ve spent any time in France, you’re well acquainted with la grève. I don’t know the success rate of these actions. I don’t pretend to know enough about the history or the politics that lead workers to strike, or the economics that dictate if or how strikes are resolved. I know that for a full day, a lot of people who don’t give much thought to the salaries or employment conditions of Belgian train workers were thinking of just that.

Expecting that the regional buses that take me to work would not be running on Thursday morning (they were), I opted to cycle to the office, even though the evening commute promised to be a rainy one. The ride home was unpleasant, but I kept hearing echoes of our Scottish tour guide from a few weeks back: you can only get wet once.

Even with the inconveniences that a strike causes, I suspect that most of the general public can sympathize with the workers. For a day or a few hours, we consider those often-invisible people who keep the world working. We remember, as the Book of Common Prayer so beautifully reminds us, “…that our common life depends upon each other’s toil”.

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