Thursday, April 16, 2009

Transportation Strike

In my last post I talked about the difficulties of traveling during the transportation strike, but neglected to mention anything about why the strike was happening.

The strike started on the 8th of April. It is supposed to affect all public transportation. Anyone who makes their living by driving (even transporting goods) is on strike. In small villages like my community, our local market transit is partially affected. Our transit driver went to and from Tounfite on Saturday and Sunday, but has not gone other days. I’m not sure what governs his decision.

Transportation workers are striking because they are upset with new laws imposed by the government. There are several new laws, but a couple that people talk about a lot. One is that anyone who kills someone else with their car (regardless of fault) will go to jail for upwards of ten years. Most of the other laws concern fines for traffic violations such as speeding (1,000 Dhs) and running a red light (also 1,000 Dhs). The government is making these laws in order to reduce the number of deaths on the road in Morocco, which is currently high.

The effects of the strike are far reaching. In big cities, local taxis are affected, which transport many people to and from work on a daily basis. For people in the countryside, the greater concern is traveling between towns/cities. My host dad has to travel to Tounfite in order to collect his quarterly retirement pension from the post office. He went on Monday morning, but could not find return transport so was stuck in Tounfite for… Other people have to travel to and from places like Midelt for business, but are unable to.

Perhaps the greatest effect that the strike has is on supplies. Like America, Morocco is dependent upon transport to distribute goods throughout the country. According to the television, ships are currently docked in Moroccan ports with goods to unload, but are unable to do so because there are no trucks to deliver the goods. Hitting closer to home is the shortage of vegetables in my market town. Fruits and vegetables are transported from the agricultural centers to the rest of the nation. The quality of vegetables this past market day (Sunday) declined noticeably. And the prices skyrocketed. Onions that are normally 3-5 Dhs/kilo were 10 Dhs/kilo. Given my generous Peace Corps salary (2,000 Dhs/month), this increase in prices is not a hardship and did not affect my purchases in any way. But for people who normally spend more than 50% of their income on food, having the price of food double has a dramatic effect. People in my village won’t eat as many vegetables this week as they normally do. In addition to food, there is a shortage of other important goods such as gas for stoves. People will get by by borrowing from their neighbors or using alternative methods of heating (wood stoves).

So what do Moroccans think of the transportation strike? Well I hardly have a representative sample here, but I have heard both sides of the story. My host mom says that the government is in the right for imposing the new laws; something must be done to decrease the number of deaths on the road. A local teacher and a friend both expressed a different view. They say that the new laws will have no impact on the number of deaths on the road. According to them, right now, if a taxi driver is stopped by the police for a violation (say a 400 Dhs fine for speeding), the police will simply ask for a bribe less than the cost of the fine (say 100 Dhs). Therefore, according to my friend and the teacher, the increase in fines will only allow police to ask for more from their bribes. (Although it seems to me that having to pay a larger bribe to the police might be a greater deterrent). They both say that Morocco is always trying to solve its problems with new rules and laws, but what it really needs is better enforcement of the existing laws. The teacher also argued that the best way to reduce traffic accidents is to improve the quality of the roads, which I have to agree with.

The strike dominates most conversations that I’m apart of and headlines the news every night. People speculate about how long it will last (a strike three years ago lasted seven days) and how much things will cost on the next market day. Although it was a pain in the neck for me when I was trying to travel back from my site, now that I’m here, it’s not a big deal (except for my host dad being stuck in Tounfite). And I enjoy having an interesting topic of conversation readily available. However, for some people here, it is a hardship because of the shortage of supplies.


Coming back to my community after 2 weeks in Fes and Rabat was a bit of a shock. Its so conservative here. But its good to be home. Ive got some work to wrap up before I leave for America, but mostly Im just enjoying being back.


Franny said...

dunc, really interesting. there was a strike here in cape town when i first arrived. it didnt affect me much because our drivers are privately employed but it was pretty scary because people were burning buses and harassing taxi drivers who were driving so there was a chance we were going to get in some trouble that way. people here cut some train wires too. they were trying to keep everyone in. my host sister couldnt go to school the whole week. but the whole country? that must be nuts.

Anonymous said...

I though transportation strike only happen in Asia.