By: J. Pierce with Gustav Alvarez
“They are seeing the capability or the power that truck drivers and the transportation industry has in the commerce. We have the ability as truck drivers, or trucks in general, to cripple the economy. And stop, literally stop, the economy. Everything moves by trucks. Everything. So if trucks don’t run, the country stops. They saw that, and they saw it works. So every time you get a majority group of people, who wants to get things done, you’re going to start to see this more regularly.”
That was the choicest quote from, Gustav, a trucker friend of mine that I interviewed and who helped out with this little piece. The US version of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” was set to swing through Tucson and I wanted to get a sense of what truckers were saying about it.
Here’s more from Gustav, who drives a truck full of fresh produce from Nogales to Los Angeles every week:
“Do I support the Freedom protest? No, I don’t really sympathize with what they’re doing. They’re fighting or protesting against what? Vaccines? Or the face masks, or something like that? They don’t want to wear it? I mean if you’re in the truck, you’re by yourself. You don’t even need it. That’s kind of like useless for me. Or senseless. I don’t know if they are advocating against vaccines, or what. I mean if someone doesn’t want to get it, then just don’t get it, right?”
“I think it all started with that kid that got into the accident; that killed those people. He ran out of brakes. They all protested because he was gonna get a hundred and some years in prison. Nobody wanted to go to Colorado. They were protesting that. Then they got that done. They protested, it worked, and they got that kid like 8 years or 5 years or something like that. So they saw that it worked. So they are trying to do this now.”
“But I don’t sympathize. I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m not against all that. I got the vaccine myself. I wear the mask.”
Gustav continues, “My friends here, we mostly run to L.A. and back. Hispanics or what not. We don’t really get into that. I haven’t heard any of my friends get into that. I guess it’s majority of white people doing it. Or Blacks maybe? I’m not really sure. I hope it’s not politically motivated against the current administration. Here people don’t do that kind of stuff. They mind their own. We do the job here and come back.”
That was the gist of Gustav’s understanding of the Freedom Convoy. First off, he recognized immediately that when truck drivers unite behind a cause, they can bring the economy to a standstill. Truckers have the power to win. Wobblies like myself love hearing workers say this because it’s basically the whole reason for our union, the Industrial Workers of the World. So when I read about the trucker protests in Colorado in support of that young Latino trucker, Rogel Aguilero, and even more so with the trucker occupation of Ottawa, Ontario, I am just reminded of why we in the IWW always dream of organizing truckers into a movement to benefit the entire working class.
The IWW did have a handful of great organizing campaigns among truckers in the 2000s. First, there was the huge campaign among drayage truckers in Stockton, California around 2003-2004 that saw multiple strikes and job actions. A few years later, there was an exciting effort among log truckers in North Carolina and Virginia in 2009 or so. There was some successful organizing among New Jersey over-the-roaders around gas prices and truckers at the Port of Long Beach in California, with one of the main issues being wait times. We had the newsletters Troquero and Truckers United and built the Freight Truckers Organizing Committee (FTOC) based in the Chicago Branch. We made a lot of progress among truckers and had many small organizing leads, contacts, and efforts all over the country. A thrilling time for the IWW for sure. With a rise in driver militancy and workers unionizing nationwide, let’s hope an era of drivers uniting and fighting returns.
Back to the topic at hand, the so-called Freedom Convoy besieged and shut down the Canadian capital with thousands of honking rigs and a sea of supporters. They defied the government and the police for a month. Shouldn’t all truckers, everywhere, not to mention workers of every industry, see this as proof of the power of the working class? The power that can and should be wielded by workers everywhere to win a better life for themselves and their families?
It’s just too bad that this Freedom Convoy happened to miss the mark on the real way forward for workers. First of all, if you are protesting against vaccine mandates, then you are basically telling people not to get the covid vaccine. And so what is their plan to end the pandemic? How much “freedom” do you expect to have if you are helping the disease spread and mutate indefinitely?
Secondly, if you are going to flex your industrial muscles like they did, why not do it for some real gains for the working class? There is so much for truckers to be upset about! Inflation and higher gas prices are simply the method the business owners use to transfer costs onto the working class. [I just watched a video about how the oil companies have been raising prices just cause they can – and laughing at us all the way to the stock holder meeting!]
What about unpaid wait times? How often are drivers expected to wait around off the clock with no increase in pay, allowing the bosses to shift inefficiencies onto drivers? If the bosses make you stick around for hours with no extra pay, that’s precious time lost from your family and friends. How many years of our lives have the capitalists already stolen from us? Gustav mentioned getting broker transparency, changing the electronic logbooks, and health insurance. Gustav would like to see the government help truckers obtain less expensive health insurance and easier access to health care. This, to me, is a huge one, especially for truckers in the US, where we have a sick and twisted for-profit healthcare system. [If “patriotic” truckers converging on D.C. can squeeze some health care gains out of their Republican Senator chums, I will be pretty impressed!]
Lastly, if you’re a trucker who is going to get involved in protest movements, you ought to know the true interests of those organizing the protest. The coordinators of the Canadian Freedom Convoy were rumored to be heavily involved in racist and right-wing politics. One can only assume the US version – the People’s Convoy – were of a similar bent. Firstly, racism is inherently anti-worker and secondly, right-wing or “patriotic” politics, no matter how ‘populist’, will always swing ’round to crushing the workers and their hopes for a better life.
Intrepid trucker-organizers have so many problems to solve. They see how much power drivers have. I just hope they choose to wield that power for the benefit of the entire class. Like Gustav said, “We have the ability as truck drivers to cripple the economy.” Imagine what we could all accomplish together when truck drivers really decide to change the system for the better.