Truckers’ strike: a protest born in the networks that does not reach the negotiating table | Economy

Everything has been very fast. Only nine months ago, the Albacete truck driver Manuel Hernández I uploaded a video to YouTube doing a monologue about the evils that afflict his union while driving a truck: “When we have strength we have to stand up to whoever is needed”. At the time, Hernandez lacked muscle. The recording only had 89 views this Monday, but after that message on June 9, 2021, many more videos came on other social networksmeetings throughout Spain and the firm determination to stop a country.

Hernández is the visible face of the National Platform for the Defense of Transport, the association that has organized the national strike that for eight days has stopped the production of factories and the supply to many stores, a movement that has had episodes of violence unauthorized by himself and other spokesmen. His movement has been lit by the fuse of the runaway rise in fuel prices and has grown thanks in part to the power of social networks, where messages of all kinds circulate, some appealing to violence. He has also helped them encourage the parties on the right. Although the Government has pointed to Vox as the instigator of the strikes, it has not presented evidence that this ultra party is at the origin of the protests or participates in them.

Hernández is a transporter from Hellín (Albacete) who in the video, the first appearance on the networks of that employer association, defines himself as a “boob” trucker, who started in the sector hand in hand with his father in a past time , when “there was respect and prices you could live with.” Hernández presents in that video his new association to defend carriers. They had lawyers and leaders, he said, but they still had no partners. He lamented in that recording that many truckers complained but did not join the fight: “I’m fed up with cowards, with settle downof sheep”.

The new employers’ association declared itself heiress of another of the same name born in 2007, which the following year organized a national strike with other groups in the sector, also motivated by the rise in fuel prices. Hernández, who has not responded to several requests for an interview, was a leader in that movement, according to two truck drivers who participated in that fight that caused significant disturbances to the Spanish economy. After 11 days of work stoppage, which included burning trucks and two deaths, the Platform was the last organization to call off the strike.

Riot police reduce members of a picket in front of the Motril port facilities during the 2008 carriers' strike.
Riot police reduce members of a picket in front of the Motril port facilities during the 2008 carriers’ strike.EFE

As happened on that occasion, the Hernández Platform has been reborn outside the system. The body that represents trucking entrepreneurs before the Ministry of Transport is the National Committee for Road Transport (CNTC), but Platform considers that it is “the greatest enemy of the small carrier” because, in its opinion, it overrepresents large companies and silences autonomous truckers. “They are the ones who hire us,” Hernández said in networks. “The votes are held by the gentlemen who coerce us.” Hernández was seeking to gather strength to call a national strike and to that end he began a series of meetings at the provincial level to recruit supporters: “You cannot ask to win a war if an army is not formed first.”

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.


Precariousness of the sector

Hernández reactivated the Platform in the spring of last year, just when the CNTC began its renewal process, Like every four years. The CNTC opened a deadline for the bosses to demonstrate their representativeness, but instead of running for the Platform, he decided to wage war from the outside. Three groups were dominant in this body: the Spanish Confederation of Freight Transport (CETM), with 64% of the votes; Fenadismer, with 21%; and Astic, with 10.5%.

Discomfort with the CNTC is widespread among self-employed truck drivers, according to Juan José Gil, general secretary of Fenadismer, another association that gives voice to this type of truck drivers. “We have been denouncing it for many years. This body gives preponderance to transport companies based on the fleet of vehicles they own”. This occurs in a sector where 72% of companies have one or two vehicles, according to data from the Ministry of Transport.

Hernández’s message resonated because the precariousness of trucking work is real. Hardly anyone wants to be a truck driver, a long-suffering and increasingly poorly paid job. At the end of the last century, most worked for large companies with their own fleet, but these have slimmed down their workforces and many have replaced wage earners with false self-employed owners of the truck, according to the Secretary of Road Transport of the UGT, Diego Buenestado. Many other freelancers work for intermediaries who impose unfair conditions, sometimes causing truckers to charge less than cost for freight. “There is a structural problem in a sector that has moved towards self-employment and precarious work that an intervention in diesel prices will not solve. That will only be a patch”, forecasts Buenestado.

At the end of last year, the CNTC feigned a strike that was deactivated when the Ministry agreed to collect historical claims in a decree, such as the quarterly update of the price of diesel in contracts and the prohibition of driver participation in cargo operations. and download. Hernández did not recognize the agreement of the CNTC and continued with his trip to arm his “army”. According to the Platform, the intermediaries are not applying this agreement and continue to set prices by appealing to free supply and demand.

Dressed in yellow vests

With the war in Ukraine already underway and diesel prices on the rise, Hernández’s Platform called an assembly in Madrid to vote for a national strike, which was approved by a show of hands almost unanimously by the more than 500 people present, dressed in vests yellow, the symbol of the protest that destabilized France in 2018. The meeting that approved the mobilization It was on Saturday March 5 at the Palacio Vistalegre Arena, a venue that Hernández said at the microphone, was not up to the possibilities of Platform, which charges 15 euros per month to its members. He explained that the owners of Vistalegre halved the usual rental rate of 30,000 euros. Hernández asked the attendees for an effort: “At the exit they are going to put some boxes where each of you voluntarily throw whatever you want,” he said.

It is unclear how much support Platform has. Sources of the associations integrated in the CNTC recognize that the monitoring of the strike that began on Monday of last week has caught them by surprise. Many self-employed truckers who were not part of the Platform have joined the mobilization. Convincing them has been easy because they suffer from fuel increases every time they stop at a pump. The objective? Hernández assures in the messages to his related that they will not stop until the central government receives them. “Here if there are no signed solutions that guarantee us to work as people and live as people, then it is better that the trucks are taken to the scrap metal and we go as shepherds, that at least we will live in peace,” he says in an audio shared in his groups. In addition to claim labor improvements, They demand that the government democratize the process of electing the CNTC.

Pilar Díaz, owner of Transportes Zambrano, last Friday with other carriers during the protest in Seville.
Pilar Díaz, owner of Transportes Zambrano, last Friday with other carriers during the protest in Seville.PACO PUENTES (THE COUNTRY)

It is also unclear how much control Hernández and provincial leaders have. In the new age of social media, it’s relatively easy to start a movement, but it’s harder to hold the reins. Messages verified by this newspaper target supermarket chains: “You have to go and set Mercadona on fire.” Police sources have arrested 45 people for crimes of injury and damage, but they add that the violent incidents are the responsibility of individuals and there is no evidence that the Platform organizes them.

According to Platform sources, they are organized in a WhatsApp group of 40 people called “Platform Administrators”, created the Sunday before the start of the strike. Provincial representatives participate there, who then distribute the messages to other larger groups of that social network made up of members in their territories. The Platform coordinator in Asturias, José Hernández, alias “Pepín” assures that if an agitator sneaks into his groups, they expel him, but there are WhatsApp and Telegram groups outside his domain. “This is very difficult to control, but we not only do not encourage violence, but we condemn it,” says this territorial leader.

“We are not extreme right!”

The representatives of the platform say that the strike is a cry of the working class: “We are not from the extreme right! It is a way of discrediting us”, regrets Manuel Amuedo, spokesman in Seville.

A man shows the puncture of a truck in Salamanca in an area where pickets have acted.
A man shows the puncture of a truck in Salamanca in an area where pickets have acted.JM Garcia (EFE)

To explain the protests, Pilar Díaz gives her example. She directs Transportes Zambrano with her husband, with a score of employees and another of trucks, and she joined the platform because the accounts do not work out for her: “The extreme situation causes us more losses than benefits. The increase in fuel has made us explode and we have to stop because it is the only thing we have left. I prefer to support the strike because we have the right to be heard by the Government”, she exposes with discouragement.

Díaz explains his fixed expenses: each employee costs him about 2,500 euros a month, the average repayment of the loan for each truck – tractor head and trailer – is 2,300 euros, breakdowns and wheel changes translate into 4,800 euros and the insurance of each vehicle 2,100 euros. Each truck consumes 7,900 euros of fuel per week. “This last month we have not added or income due to demoralization. I pay for diesel at 1.81 euros per liter and a year ago at 1.07 euros, it can’t be and we have nothing to lose, because the transport agencies have not gone up or down, they are paying the same price,” he said. complain.

Rodrigo Juárez, representative in León of the platform, explains: “I don’t want to become a millionaire, we just want to live and if the expenses go up or down, that the postage goes up or down. The last week I went to pay and I put money. Juárez assures that in his WhatsApp group he has had “trade unionists and civil guards” who have already left or have been expelled after a week.

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