Twenty-five years after the last major independent trucker strike, a few hundred truckers last month shut down or slowed down to protest high diesel prices.
The protests were peaceful, without the violence and fatalities that marred the historic trucker strikes of the late ’70s and early ’80s. What remained the same, however, was the outcome: The April shutdowns, like their predecessors, accomplished virtually nothing.
Sure, the recent protests garnered some media attention, mostly before the fact. And the 1979 shutdown did prompt a temporary mandatory fuel surcharge, made possible only because trucking was regulated back then. Even the 1983 shutdown, during which National Guard helicopters patrolled the highways to head off violence, failed to accomplish its goal of preventing increases in the fuel tax and other taxes on trucking.
A 1983 Overdrive article justifying that shutdown warned that increased truck taxes would drive most independents out of business. Yet 25 years later, with diesel taxes more than double what they were in 1983, independents are still with us, facing the same challenges. And some still try – and fail – to fix their problems by showing the public that without truckers, America stops.
Shutdowns have no effect on diesel prices mainly because there’s just not much that can be done. Trucker protests could prompt President Bush to cease filling or to draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move various groups call for each time fuel prices increase. That would only marginally affect fuel prices for the short term and would leave us vulnerable in the case of a disaster. Congress could suspend the federal fuel tax for the summer driving season, as presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has suggested, but that savings would be temporary and minimal. Or we could hold hearings on Capitol Hill, giving Congress yet another opportunity for pointless political grandstanding.
None of these steps would have any long-term impact on prices because diesel is a global commodity subject to the laws of supply and demand. Only reduced consumption or reduced dependence on foreign oil will accomplish that goal. Yet far from falling, world oil consumption has increased, particularly in the United States, China and India. And other than turning crops into alternative fuels, we Americans haven’t done much to reduce our foreign oil dependency, either.
All you really can do to affect how much you pay at the pump is to control how much you use. You also can follow the lead of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association by telling Congress to support a bill that would require the mandatory pass-through of fuel surcharges so at least you can be sure of recouping some of your expenses. While you’re at it, tell your representatives you support any environmentally sound measures that would break our dependence on foreign oil.
And next time the shutdown buzz starts, remember: What didn’t work 30 years ago won’t work in today’s global economy.