Truckers fight gov’t mandates, attacks on their livelihoods

By Arlene Rubinstein
March 21, 2022

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Hundreds of “big rig” tractor trailer trucks and an estimated 1,000 vehicles overall — cars, pick-ups, motorcycles, and RVs — are crammed into the Speedway, an auto race track here, for People’s Convoy protests. More were still coming when a Socialist Workers Party team came to express solidarity March 8.

Since arriving two days earlier, the truckers organized nightly rallies, morning meetings, and daily drive-arounds over the beltway and other highways surrounding the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to draw attention to their demands. They call for an end to government COVID-19 mandates that attempt to force people to get vaccinated or face losing their jobs and other restrictions.

The protests also express truckers’ anger at action by the government, trucking bosses and brokers that threaten their livelihood — soaring diesel prices, wage theft, and mandatory federal monitors in truck cabs that restrict driving hours, and more.

The convoy was inspired by Canadian truckers and other participants in protests in Ottawa, that country’s capital, demanding an end to government vaccine mandates that bar truckers from making trips to and from the U.S. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by invoking the draconian Emergencies Act, breaking up their protests, carrying out hundreds of arrests, seizing truckers’ rigs and bank accounts, and other violations of basic political rights.

Peaceful protest

The protest here has been entirely peaceful. Organizers have not taken the convoy into the District in order to avoid provocation or government attacks. Regardless, area authorities have mobilized as if a war was brewing. D.C. cops have mobilized their Civil Disturbance Unit. President Joe Biden — who claims to be a “friend” of working people — had Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin grant requests from local cops to deploy 700 National Guard troops. Cops from New York City have come to town.

The liberal media here, like in the case of the truckers’ convoy in Canada last month, have smeared the protesters as ultra reactionary and dangerous. The Washington Post is full of quotes from “extremism researchers” who call convoy participants “anti-government” and “right wing conspiracy theorists.” They’re slandered as having “connections” with “January 6 insurrectionists.”

“Everybody is welcome. This is not a right-wing movement,” Lee Schmitt, a northern Wisconsin owner-operator and former dairy farmer, told the SWP team. Schmitt also participated in a three-week national action in Washington, D.C., in 2020 that called attention to owner-operators’ demands for an end to restrictions on their livelihood and protested brokers slashing their rates.

“Those demands are still important. But so is speaking out because government regulations are diminishing our freedoms,” Schmitt told us, explaining participants seek an end to the national emergency declaration in response to the pandemic — first issued by President Donald Trump in March 2020 and later extended by President Biden — and for Congress to hold hearings investigating the government’s overreaching response to the pandemic. “The Democrats and the Republicans are both to blame,” Schmitt said.

“We are living in a world the like of which none of us have known before in our lives,” I said, explaining I am a leader of the SWP in Washington and the party’s candidate for delegate to U.S. Congress. “Rising prices — gas, food and other necessities are wreaking havoc on the lives of millions. Growing social crises affect our families. A war in Europe has exploded. We need activities like this to be able to discuss a road forward for the working class.”

“I’m glad I came here to learn what you are trying to accomplish. Your peaceful protest is being vilified in the press. Now, I can explain better why the unions need to be part of this fight,” party member Glova Scott told Schmitt.

Schmitt, who first saw the Militant at the 2020 truckers’ protest, signed up for a subscription. “This is a very good paper,” Schmitt told Joyce Rice, a participant from Bells, Tennessee, where she hauls tractor trailers in need of repair. She also subscribed.

“I didn’t agree with everything in Canada, but truckers took a stand. It was powerful, and it gave U.S. truckers pride and motivation,” Fred Bowerman told the Militant. Bowerman, a former trucker who works at the Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, and is a member of United Auto Workers Local 12 there, took time off to make the over 2,500 mile trip with the convoy that began in Adelanto, California. “The outpouring of support along the way has made this a once in a lifetime experience. But you also realize, we need discipline and leadership.”

Craig Brown, a trucker from Idaho who joined the convoy in California, told the Washington Post that the trip has been more exciting than he could have imagined. Everywhere they’ve gone, he said, people have turned out to cheer them on and brought food for them to eat.

The convoy clearly touched a nerve for working people who feel the U.S. rulers and their politicians have little concern for the challenges workers face from the economic, political and moral crisis of the capitalist system today.