Crossing Cultures: On Strike

Growing up, I remember hearing about strikes, but only through movies that were portraying times past, when forming a union and going on strike was the only way to combat those in power.  Now, with all the employee protection laws and regulations, it kind of feels like stuff like that doesn’t have to happen anymore.  Maybe it still does and I’m just unaware.
But here in Peru, strikes are still an active part of an employee’s life.  The political structure is such that many businesses are run by one department of the government or another, so it is not uncommon for there to be country-wide strikes among employees of this or that office.  Recently, they’ve been on a roll and one of our friends was involved in it, so we got a closer look at what it is all about.
Peru has socialized healthcare, which is handled by two groups.  The larger group is the Ministerio de Salud (or the Health Department) and a smaller group is Es Salud (It is Health).  They employ everyone, from nurses and technicians to surgeons.  People can choose one or the other and purchase their “insurance” which means they will be seen at a minimal cost by the selected medical care provider.  
A few months ago, Es Salud organized to demand pay raises that had not happened in over 15 years even though the cost of living has spiked.  They wanted to fight for fair scheduling and equality, meaning that even those who worked less and made more wanted to strike for justice, to free their overworked and underpaid coworkers from the discrepancy.  They knew that prices had risen for medical care, but weren’t seeing that money distributed toward actual patient care.  So they did a warning strike, much like a sit-in.  They planned (and warned their patients of) two days in which everyone came to work, and did absolutely nothing.  They just sat there.  They were warning the head honchos that that meant business, and that if this little strike didn’t have an effect, they would plan and execute an indefinite strike.  
The two days didn’t work, so a few weeks later, after organizing and filing the required paperwork with the government to prevent job losses, they went back on strike.  And it was not that they just stopped working.  They held marches all over the country.  They met frequently to give feedback and encouragement to the representatives that were handling meetings with the authorities.  They spread awareness.  They scheduled shifts to man the emergency and intensive care units to ensure patient care, but refused to sign in as attending work so as not to get credit for it.  
Nothing happened for weeks.  The last steps would be a hunger strike, then a thirst strike, where they rallied together in the city square, camped out in tents to wait it out; first without eating, then without even drinking.  Luckily it didn’t reach that point, but they were on strike for almost a month before the government intervened and told the executives to figure it out and make it stop.  They finally came to an agreement and everyone began scrambling to catch back up with the backlog of patient needs that had gone unaddressed for a month.
About 10 days after their strike ended, the Ministerio de Salud started their, for the same purposes.  This has directly affected some ill friends of ours who are in need of surgeries to remove a gall bladder and a spleen. Since they are not emergency situations, they have to wait until the strike is over.  
Additionally, in the middle of all of this, the public school teachers went on strike and have been for three weeks now.  There are numerous private schools that are still in session, but the effect is still widespread, reaching even to the public universities.  We have seen times that taxi and bus drivers will go on strike to argue the price of gas, demanding that the government subsidize so that they can do their jobs.  
It has been interesting to consider how all of this plays out.  For one, it doesn’t make sense to me why the decision makers in these businesses wouldn’t just come to the table ready to talk.  They haven’t had pay increases in 15 years?  Did they think it wasn’t coming?  Allowing your services to go unused, dragging out the process, seems like bad business to me.  And while I can appreciate that the doctors made sure the critical cases were handled, not leaving people without any care, there were still plenty of moms whose kids had a fever or elderly who struggled with a problem that had to deal with it alone or at extra cost.  
And I know that the public schools are a place of struggle, for teachers and students.  Peru has very poor public education, and if the teachers are battling for the ability to do better, I applaud that.  But in the meantime, the little kids who were on the brink of learning to read have lost their momentum, and the parents poor enough to use the public school system, who relied on having a school day to work for income are stuck finding Plan B.  
It highlights to me the brokenness of this world.  We are created to work together, filling in where someone else cannot, encouraging and supporting one another.  And it frustrates me that we must turn to battles and strikes to work together toward something better.  That those stuck in the middle who want to care for or teach others must leave that work to throw down the gauntlet and force the hand of the powerful.  It makes me tired of power struggles and abuse of control and long for the day when everyone will realize how futile their silly grasp on their limited world really was, when it finally all changes and becomes obvious just Who holds every key.  And He heeds the concerns of the world and works for our strikes necessary.