Effects of lorry drivers’ strike starting to show

EMPTY shelves are already being seen in many supermarkets, workers being sent home and factories closed, as a result of the lorry drivers’ strike.

The main products affected are those coming from the north of the country, especially milk, and from Andalucia, although supermarkets and consumer groups have urged people not to rush out and stock up, reassuring the public that there are sufficient supplies.

The lorry drivers’ strike, which officially began on 14 March, is in protest over the huge increases in fuel prices recently, making work impossible for many individual drivers who work alone as autónomos (self-employed). While large companies have a certain number of their own employees who drive trucks, they also use the services of these self-employed drivers which make up more than 60% of the sector. As fuel prices have sprialled, these self-employed drivers have seen their incomes disappear. But they are particularly angry because the government receives IVA (VAT) as a percentage of the fuel price, 21%, so with the exorbitant increase in fuel, so the government’s tax revenue has also increased exponentially.

Thousands of lorry drivers took to the streets of Valencia on Monday in a marcha lenta, driving slowly to cause traffic chaos, which they achieved. The drivers had tried to ‘march’ last week but couldn’t find anywhere large enough to meet, so it wasn’t until Monday (20 March) that they managed to gather in La Reva Industrial Estate in Ribarroja and set off from there, horns blaring.

Ana Alfonso, who has the offices of her oil distribution company, Olisoy, in the industrial estate, described the scene: “I’ve never seen so many trucks together, there were hundreds and hundreds, and the noise was incredible.”

Lorry drivers gather in La Reva Industrial Estate in Ribarroja del Túria (Ana Alfonso)

Ana, who herself is feeling the pinch from the strike, explained: “We have been experiencing problems since 9 March. The drivers wanted to speak to the government, but the government wouldn’t listen because they are a minority. In Italy and France governments are reducing taxes on fuel but not here, the behaviour of this government is incredible.”

On Monday, Spanish Transport Minister, Raquel Sánchez, agreed a package of direct aid of €500 million Euros, but drivers said they would continue to strike. Ana explained: “€500 million is not enough, compared to the extra money the government is receiving in tax revenue from fuel.”

She continued: “Factories are closing and people are being sent home because there is no room to store products in the factories. That is, if you can keep producing, many companies don’t have the materials they need because of the just-in-time supply chain.”

“We don’t have bottles and we can’t send our products to the port, as there is no transport. Since 9 March it has been impossible to get my shipments sent. Ours is not such a big problem as oil doesn’t go off as quickly. But for products such as milk and yeast for beers, it’s really complicated.

“The problems are particularly bad here and in the south of Spain, where there are many pickets. Drivers in the south don’t want to go out because the pickets are breaking their trucks, slashing their tyres.

“I’m receiving calls from customers all over the world for orders, but it’s impossible as everything is blocked.”

Speaking to news agency EFE on Wednesday, the president of the Valencian employers’ association, Salvador Navarro, said that the situation generated by the transport strike “is beginning to be worrying” and warned that, if it continues like this, there will be shortages in supermarkets, plant shutdowns and workers being sent into temporary unemployment.

Navarro blamed the “inaction” of the Spanish central government and their “error” of taking lightly the call for transport stoppages.

He said: “We are concerned about the lack of supply in companies; this is going to have a knock-on effect, in which we hope that the government will act with the armed forces so that those who want to work are supported……..there are people who have the right to stop, but there are other people who have the right to work” he added.

Navarro explained that, in the Valencia region, the Danone plant seems to have closed due to a lack of supply and some companies in the agri-food sector are having problems with the reception of goods, especially those coming from the north of the country and Andalusia. He said that supply problems were also being seen in raw materials for the construction industry, warning that building works could be paralysed.

In addition, he called on Pedro Sánchez’s government to make a “quick decision” to “substantially” reduce the cost of fuel, as they have done in countries such as France, and the price of electricity and gas, and insisted on demanding that the government react and give answers, instead of being “out of touch with reality”.

EFE also reported that the president of the Port Authority of Valencia, Aurelio Martínez, said this Wednesday that “the transport sector is fundamental” and, consequently, “we must give it the importance it has” and seek solutions against the excessive increase in fuel prices.

He reflected on the fact that “61% of the sector has only one lorry, in other words, it is a self-employed sector, for whom diesel accounts for 31% of their costs. And if that cost shoots up by 50%, they can’t live, you have to understand the seriousness of the situation”.

In his opinion, there are two lessons to be learned from what is happening, the first is that “the transport sector is fundamental, when it works well you don’t notice it, but in a week of stoppages there are shortages and companies closing, you have to give it the importance it has”.

“The second is that it is very easy to block it. You put pickets at the only door of the port and it is already blocked. The goods are unloaded and if they can’t get out, the port collapses, it’s very easy, and that’s what is happening”, he concluded.

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