Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back in the Saddle 

I'm back from a vacation to Rome where the family proved that cobblestones can hurt feet after four days of walking. There was at least one interesting PR event that occurred during our stay -- a wildcat strike in which railroad and government workers stayed home. This happened so quickly that we went to the train station on Friday morning and were unaware that no trains were running. In fact, people in the train station were as surprised as we were.

I question the long-term PR value of such strikes and not because of inconvenience. Railroad workers were unhappy with a proposed government budget, so they bolted. It's OK to be unhappy but to bolt from an essential transportation service places a country in the same situation that President Reagan faced with the Air Traffic Controllers' union and Harry Truman with railroad workers. Do individuals in services deemed essential have the same right of action as others? In the US, the answer appears to be no. In Italy, the answer appears to be the opposite. From a PR perspective, there appears to be a cultural divide between Italy and the US. Walking out is a bad PR move in the US: I'm not certain what it is in Italy.

In the end, the strike didn't disrupt our vacation plans that much, but it made me curious about why such differences in action are tolerated --- or not -- from country to country. As an American, my view is that unions place themselves in jeopardy if they begin to believe they are more important than the country itself. And, the more they are allowed to get away with acting in a "high-handed" manner, the more they consider such actions a norm rather than an exception. This leads from public to private interest and from PR to arrogance. At some point there are no more public relations but raw self-interest and political power. That is the point at which government should step in and put a stop to it.


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