Combi Strike in Arequipa, Peru

The combi employees went on strike last week. The government tried to mandate that all public combis be less than 25 years old, causing enough outrage for a strike. There were no combis. I think the combi workers own their buses, but the companies own the route while taking a percentage from operators, and maybe even selling them the combis. This would explain why the rank and file combi drivers and attendants care about this new law – because they don’t want to buy new combis. But I’m not sure.

The strike worked. All the Arequipeños needed the strike to end, which it did quickly and the combi operators got their way.

Strikes in Arequipa can be crippling. Combis won’t operate during the bigger strikes because strikers throw rocks at them. For one big strike people didn’t drive their personal cars for fear of being hit with rocks. Everybody walked or drove to work. One guy I know drove his motorcycle – I guess strikers won’t throw rocks at people on motorcycles.

There have been half a dozen or so big strikes since I moved to Arequipa ten months ago. For some, the combis don’t operate but a large truck with a fenced-in bed runs the routes. Standing passengers ride in back. I’ve opted for a taxi each time the truck was the only alternative.

I heard about a famous Arequipa strike which shut the whole city down. The strikers removed the cobblestones from the downtown streets so deliveries couldn’t be made. There was no auto traffic and people walked to their destinations for weeks. Civil unrest is a point of pride in Arequipa. They’re proud that if Lima or any other interest goes against Arequipa, they’ll shut down the entire south of the country.


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