European truckers are beginning to protest that escalating operational costs due to rising fuel prices are making their services unsustainable.
Protests in France are gaining steam, and Spain is already a week into an indefinite strike by many truckers.
The online trade publication TransInfo.com reported earlier in March that hauliers and truck drivers throughout Europe are demanding governments act in the face of increasing costs and an economy still slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many small and medium-sized trucking companies throughout the continent claim they are operating at losses under the current circumstances. The industry had been struggling even before the war in Ukraine caused fuel prices to skyrocket. But the economic effects of the conflict now reverberating across Europe may prove to be the proverbial straw to break the backs of European truckers.
In Spain, a strike that started on March 14th is having consequences in the delivery of fresh food products.
The Platform in Defence of the Goods Transportation Sector initiated the strike in Spain. The platform claims to represent small and medium-sized trucking companies, which according to the organisation, make up 85% of the sector. It formed in 2007 as a breakaway group from the National Committee of Transport to better represent the interests of smaller trucking companies.
At the end of last year, the Spanish government negotiated with the country’s principal trucking associations, installing measures meant to give truckers more leverage in contracts as well as improve drivers’ working conditions. They included an obligatory revision of transport contracts in the event of changes in fuel price before the delivery was complete. The platform was dissatisfied with the agreement, however, because the new measures overlooked small- and medium-sized trucking companies. On March 5th, the government was presented with demands on behalf of these smaller companies, with the threat to begin an indefinite strike on March 14th.
The first days of the strike seemed to have little effect on goods moving through the country. By the end of the week, though, deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and seafood to market hubs had fallen drastically. The growers association of Almeria, in southern Spain, warned producers could face losses of up to €10 million. The National Dairy Association also announced that starting Thursday, March 15th, many dairy factories would have to close because they were not receiving milk deliveries. The beer company Estrella Galicia also announced its production would stop on Friday, March 18th, due to lack of deliveries of raw materials.
Throughout the week, striking truckers organised long, slow caravans along some highways to block traffic and draw attention to their cause. Spanish media also reported picket lines of truckers outside industrial parks and attempts to block working truckers from making their deliveries. The government sent police escorts with caravans of working truckers to ensure they could complete their deliveries.
Despite calls for immediate emergency measures to ameliorate the effects of high fuel prices–France and Portugal have already announced rebates for truckers–the Spanish government has yet to act, promising a package of measures for the end of March. It has also refused to meet with the striking truckers, claiming they represent only a small part of the industry. Raquel Sánchez, transportation minister, qualified the truckers and their strike as a “boycott” led by “ultras.” She said she would not negotiate “with a group of radicals.”
French media has also reported that truckers have started to mobilise in their country. On March 15th, truck drivers protested outside the Renne regional headquarters. Also on Tuesday, truckers, farmers, and fishermen blocked the gas stations of Lorient and Brest to criticise the rise in fuel prices. The European Road Transport Organisation called for demonstrations on Monday, March 21st, though it did not give more specifics. This is despite the fact that France has already introduced a rebate of €0.15 per litre of fuel.
In Spain, which has the largest fishing fleet in the world, the fishing industry is also warning that rising fuel costs could leave fishing boats anchored in harbours and fish markets with little to offer. Spain has asked the European Union to dip into the European Maritime Fund for Fishing and Aquaculture to subsidise the costs of the fishing industry, Agency EFE reports.
Galloping increases in fuel prices are just one more blow to the European model of production and consumption.