WASHINGTON — A national protest by independent truckers that began May 1 is now in its 13th day. More truckers arrive daily to join the over 100 trucks parked on the National Mall by the U.S. Capitol.
“There’s a rotation. If a trucker leaves for a job, or for whatever reason, we try to get a replacement,” said Linda Stockton from Oklahoma City. She has been driving since she got out of the Navy and told the Militant she has joined protests like this for the last four years. “I like the camaraderie out here with my brothers and sisters.”
“We are not going until we get a hearing — and some answers,” Greg Anderson, a Bardstown, Kentucky, trucker and former coal hauler, told the Militant. “Farmers held tractorcades. I went with my grandfather.”
“We have a right to be here. We have to learn how to exercise our rights,” he said. “So much of the Constitution has been shredded.”
The protesters demand a meeting with President Donald Trump to discuss relief they need as they face the disastrous impact on their livelihoods from the government-mandated economic shutdown. As jobs have dried up, brokers they get work from have slashed the drivers’ share of the pay — when they can get work at all.
Trump has praised the truckers, telling Fox News that they “are price-gouged.” Some were satisfied that they had made their point and decided to leave the Mall. “The majority decided to stay and stand firm. It really makes you change when you are standing together in unity,” said Janet Sanchez, an Ocala, Florida, dispatcher who is part of the fight.
“We demand immediate relief and reform,” Trenton, New Jersey, trucker Rick Santiago told the Militant. “The brokers are not being transparent. In the current situation, that’s immoral.”
“Things need to change. You don’t see the brokers protesting. They use the crisis to push further against us,” said Felipe Velez. Felipe and his wife Dorys had participated in the “slow roll” protest in Los Angeles May 1. A few days later, the couple picked up a load and took it to New York. From there, they headed here to join the action May 10.
“Millions of working people have been thrown out of work. The virus didn’t do it, the bosses and the government did. The Socialist Workers Party says, ‘Build the truckers protest.’ Your fight is in the interests of all working people,” James Harris told Velez. Harris is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for D.C. Delegate to Congress and a Walmart worker. He is a regular at the protest. “You are workers — just workers with expensive tools.”
“Very expensive. This truck cost $268,000,” said Velez, a former warehouse worker. “I pay $2,700 a month just for the truck and $700 for the trailer. This is our luxury hotel on wheels. This is where we live.”
Harris showed Velez Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs, a central leader of the SWP who led the Teamsters organization of tens of thousands of over-the-road drivers in the Midwest in the 1930s.
Velez signed up for an introductory subscription to the Militant and got Teamster Rebellion.
Many of the owner-operators here say that they are living load to load. Others explain that they have been forced to take loads below their cost of operation, even though they know this further drives down the price. There are cars parked among the trucks on Constitution Avenue that belong to operators in the protest whose trucks were repossessed by the banks.
Meanwhile, the largest trucking companies receive government largesse from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, while they lay off workers.
The independent truckers get a good response as they explain what they face to people walking on the Mall. “We are protesting unsafe conditions of work,” Crystal McIntosh from Wessington Springs told a woman, as she held up a copy of Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations, a 736-page manual. “These rules were written by someone who has never driven a truck.”
Initiatives by the truckers themselves help keep the protest going. Christian Bedoya from Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and Tony Cammarasana from Miami cook hot meals daily. “I drove down with 500 eggs, 300 buns and $1,300, with the idea to feed every trucker a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast. Tony and I teamed up — with two small plug-in hot plates,” he said.
By the sixth day as word spread they began to get donations. They upgraded their equipment and started cooking dinner. “This is a peaceful and dignified protest,” Bedoya said. “Everyone is welcome.”