Fuel Blockades

Part of a discussion about the UK fuel blockades over oil prices in 2000.

Submitted by libcom on July 23, 2005

Wildcat-Zirkular No. 58 - December 2000 - pp. (german edition) 34-37

Fuel Blockades

(This was a letter to a discussion about the petrol prices movement in the UK. Gill and Dave referred to by Rachel had denounced the movement as 'petit bourgeois'.)

As an international freight driver I find it hard to keep my cool on this one, we truck drivers at last, all be it in a distorted way, start to stick together, tanker drivers refuse to cross blockades, Bill Morris and the TUC leaders indulge in a disgraceful sell out (which more than matches Bill Morris's sell out of the Liverpool Dockers) and my own "Comrades" side with Bill Morris!

Just to state where I am coming from: I am a member of at least one usually excluded group, ie. A woman truck driver in a very male world, one that is not only occupied by men but one in which racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic comments and attitudes are a constant threat.

Part of the ideological baggage that stems from the attitudes of many of the blokes I work with is that they are totally cynical about collective action, the sell out of the lorry drivers strike in 1979 by union bureaucrats has taught them a bitter lesson, one that has led to a sense of defeat and reactionary ideas. In spite of all this, in spite of the fact that the blockades were organised by small owner drivers and other "nasty" elements, we did actually stand together and fight our corner for a brief period of a week at least, I think socialists like me deserve more support than we apparently received from David and Gill.

David says that the blockades are about moving in a direction of "less tax, less welfare " no, that is not a marxist position, is David saying that we have to pay high levels of vat on diesel and petrol in order to have decent social services? If he is then my personal experience is at odds with his opinion. I am now 60 years old, I drive a 41tonne truck over 4,000 kilometres a week, to Spain and Portugal and back as an employed driver for which I get between 300 and 350 a week clear paid into my bank account. The fact that I face a future with an inadequate pension and am terrified of becoming ill in case I have to rely on our NHS has nothing, repeat nothing David to do with not paying enough tax. If you concede the ground on which you argue to Capitalists then there is indeed no hope of achieving a socialist society. The enemy is Capitalism, not low taxation.

I am proud to call myself a trucker and prouder still of being a woman trucker, (even if it does get changed to "lady driver" yuk), fighting my corner in a very male world. It does actually take a lot out of me to, for example, pull into a truck Stop in Spain in the middle of the night to fill up with diesel and get a meal and get looked at like I come from another planet, when I talk and discuss with the blokes I have to be very careful about how I put forward my socialist ideas, language like Gill, and David, uses would increase my sense of vulnerability and I do not want to be associated with you or the language you use.

The reasons I support the blockade are because lower fuel prices are a means of protecting my job, I'm now employed but three years ago, before I went bankrupt, I was an owner driver, (I think that there probably are historical examples of owner drivers, like journeymen who owned their own tools or their own small businesses, who can legitimately be described as working class, (at least as much as a University Lecturer can)). When I was going down the pan, knowing I was failing to compete, knowing I was losing, I tried to keep afloat by "running on cherry" (using untaxed diesel). I bought it off a bloke who charged me 18p a litre, he obviously paid less than this in order to make a profit out of customers like me. I didn't like what I was doing and, after I got caught and fined the 1,500:00 I had to pay was one of the reasons I went bankrupt. I was paying 1,374:00 a month for the only new vehicle I will ever own, the tax on it (vehicle excise duty) was about 3,750 a year (I can't remember the exact figure but it's now about 5,500 for a two axle unit pulling a tri-axle trailer). If I bought legitimate diesel the diesel costs were in excess of 3,000 a month, (insurance + R & M use up anther 500 pcm), I used to get 1,700 for a Barcelona (and back), work it out for yourself, whether employed or owner drivers we are not all Eddie Stobarts. In short you have to drive night and day, literally, in order to make a living.

I will never, ever forget that day, about six in the Morning in Ramsgate Docks, when I was busted, this Customs Officer, in a bizarre ceremony, putting her hand on my beautiful 420 Eurostar and saying "in the name of the Queen I seize this vehicle." There were tears of rage and humiliation streaming down my cheeks, later on, after I mortgaged my earnings to pay them, I said to her "look, what can I do now? I have 850litres of cherry in my tanks, I will really get wrong with the Green Party if I dump it in Ramsgate Docks!" "I couldn't care less what you do with it" she said, "your just shipping out aren't you? Run on cherry the other side of the channel all the time for all I care, just don't have any in your tanks when you come back". On the ferry I tipped vodka down me and talked with another trucker who told me about a number of prison sentences he had served, he instinctively felt solidarity with me "know what you want to do? Keep running on cherry till you have your 1,500 back from the bastards, then when you have done that start making more money out of them!" Maybe that just makes the two of us "lumpen scum" who "turn up on the picket lines?", I do though know that the hatred we both felt towards those who had done what they had done to us was a valid emotion which was a starting point for action.

I am proud to be a trucker but I am also ashamed when I think of drivers driving through the picket lines, when, possibly these same drivers change their attitudes and respect blockades would it not be better to support them and try to express solidarity? I am told one of the tanker drivers said in a tv interview that he had driven through miners picket lines and he now realised he was wrong, what would David and Gill tell him? That he was wrong to drive through the miners picket lines but that he should have driven through the "petit-bourgeois" picket lines? What are they going to say to the rest of us? That because these blockades were led by petit-bourgeois elements then we should all go home and read at least one volume of "Das Kapital" before demonstrating again?

Because of the cut throat nature of Capitalism the job I do for a living could be described as a rat race, except that this would be unfair to rats because rats don't behave in such an anti-social way as Capitalists, the point however is to change it, not criticise us when for the first time in years, when we start to come together and when Bill Morris sells us out and advises drivers who are starting to respect blockades to drive past them then you could at least be a little more constructive than to hurl insults at us like "lumpen scum" and "petit bourgeois narrow interests". By the way Tony Blair is no Allende, if you think he is we have nothing in common and there is no further point in discussion.

Conditions are so bad in our industry that there are blokes (and a few women) driving night and day, 24 hours a day, it's not all that unusual for blokes to run back from Southern Spain without sleep, a friend does Lancashire-Brindisi and back with only the sleep he can snatch whilst waiting for the ferry or being loaded or unloaded, this is quite common, as are interrupter switches so you can turn off the tackograph. Also hidden diesel tanks built where customs officers don't find them, so you can run on cherry without getting caught, like I was, (by the way, the government made it legal to run on cherry last week, during the crises). There is a minority of drivers who use amphetamines and a lot who use alcohol, but we are not all macho "lumpen scum", I have met with so many acts of mutual aid and help from blokes who I will possibly never see again, the point is to turn this into trades union solidarity and to do this we need insults and negative opinions like we need a hole in the head.

I have to get up in the early hours of the morning and there is a whole lot more I want to say but I will leave it, I could add that I don't want to be personal but this wouldn't be true. That Volve420 I drive is all there is between me and having to "live" on an OAP, it's my life, these issues are that important to me and I will fight with the blokes (and women) I work with, you can see some of our opinions if you go into: http://ladytruckersclub.tripod.com/LTC_Bulletin/page1.htm And look round the site.

In socialism and in Solidarity with my Sisters and Brothers

Rachael Webb