By Dan O’Rourke
Truck drivers associated with the ‘Irish Truckers Haulage Association Against Fuel Prices’ blockaded Dublin port on Monday in protest against rising fuel costs, fuel rebate and inflation.
This is the second protest by the group after truckers drove into the city to Leinster House on 24 November. At the protest a trucker being interviewed by RTE stated, “We’re getting crippled on tax, we’re getting crippled on insurance, haulage — everything’s gone up but the wages. And the wages can’t go up as long as we’re paying that diesel.”
All working-class people are experiencing similar price increases on bills and basic necessities, as wages remain flat, and will sympathise with and support the truckers actions. Indications are that working people are largely on the side of the truckers, with messages of support and solidarity pouring in via social media.
If the truck drivers are successful in demands, and the price of fuel is lowered, this will lower costs for all working people. Lower fuel costs will have knock-on effects on the price of food and other essentials. The temporary inconvenience and traffic jams will be a small price to pay if the truckers achieve their goals.
Cost of living crisis
It should be noted that the rising cost of living is taking place as corporations and CEOs have seen massive increases in profits and salaries. The strike is a show of strength against a faltering coalition government, who are unwilling to do anything about inflation and wage stagnation.
Right-wing politicians, the Gardaí, retail lobbying groups, and the media have all predictably maligned the protests as ‘not the way to do business’ and are focusing on the temporary inconveniences caused by the protests, rather than discussing the long-term damage being done to truckers’ livelihoods. The right to effective protest is fundamental to democracy and must be defended.
What is needed
Voicing strong support for the trucker’s protest, Socialist Party TD Mick Barry laid out an alternative plan for tackling rising costs of fuel and other necessities. Despite objections to the contrary, the government does hold power to relive some of the costs of fuel.
The government must scrap the carbon tax and replace it with the polluters’ tax on big business interests. There must also be a cut on VAT on petrol and Diesel. The trade union movement must demand that a rise in the cost of prices is indexed linked to a rise in wages.
A fairer deal is needed for truck drivers and small hauliers. Larger haulier companies such as Nolan’s Haulage that have been taking part in union busting and undermining worker organisation must open their books to show how much of the burden they are able to carry. Ultimately, these larger companies must be taken out of the hands of the profiteers and brought into democratic public ownership.
Essentially, those with the greatest capacity to pay, and the biggest contributors to pollution should be the ones to carry the burden; not under-paid and overworked drivers who are essential to the smooth running of day to day life. There’s a reason the bosses who sit comfortably at a desk were not labelled ‘essential workers’ during recent lockdowns.
Lessons for workers
The militant action taken by the truckers is a lesson for the rank and file of the trade unions. The group organising these protests was established after the bureaucratic Hauliers Association proved incapable of taking action. The lesson here is that if leaders of trade unions don’t act, workers can lead from below.
Additionally, truck drivers in Britain with Unite the Union have been able to achieve a 20% pay rise following effective action. Showing that organisation and determination gets results.
Collective organisation needed
The tendency for truck drivers to operate as independent self-employed drivers has not always been the case. Following the Thatcher and Regan era, and their attacks on organised workers, the trucking industry became casualised and was typically managed on an owner-operator basis.
This setup nominally provides independent truckers with some choice in who they work for, and what jobs they take. Unfortunately, the reality is that the drivers are still under-paid and overworked, while their ability to unionise has been undermined. Additionally, trucks are purchased using debt and are effectively owned by the finance company. However, as we have seen in the past truck drivers still have the power to organise and demand better working conditions.
In September 2020, truckers in Chile achieved important wins after striking for one week. The billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, reluctantly gave in to demands, while also condemning the tactics of the Truckers, in a manner similar to the attacks on Irish truckers in recent days.
As the global economy starts to head into a period of rising costs, ballooning corporate profits and stagnant wages, it will take militant organised action to take back what was earned by workers and is being absorbed parasitically by the bosses. Workers everywhere should support the truckers who are essential to keeping us supplied with basic necessities of life.