Road transport strike: consequences for industry and trade

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February 1997 saw a major strike in Spain's road transport sector. The dispute was well supported, mainly in the north of the country, but was called off without winning many concessions from the Government.

The road transport dispute, which lasted from 6 to 20 February, was the most important industrial action taking place in Spain in February 1997. The situation of this sector has led to some minor disputes in recent years due to the problem of achieving competitiveness within the European Union. On this occasion two factors came together: a growing awareness of the need for change, and differences in the approaches of the associations representing workers in the sector.

Fedatrans, the association which called the strike, represents self-employed lorry drivers. It submitted a series of demands to the Government that were initially not met: retirement at 60 on 100% of previous income (and voluntary retirement at 55); recognition of occupational illnesses; a reduction in the price of diesel fuel; and regulation of employment in the sector.

The dispute spread over northern Spain. According to the organisers, it involved 200,000 lorry drivers, above all self-employed workers who make up 80% of the sector. After several days, the strike affected other firms too, principally in the automobile sector, food markets, some ports and agricultural cooperatives that could not renew their stocks. At its high point, some 50,000 workers in other sectors may have been affected, although the situation never became as dramatic as the French lorry drivers' strike in late 1996. It should not be forgotten that road transport is very different in the two countries: in France the sector is dominated by large companies and salaried drivers, whereas in Spain the majority are self-employed.

The representatives of the Spanish lorry drivers had different points of view: those in favour of the strike wanted the Government to provide funds to meet the majority of their demands and to make changes in the regulation of the sector; while the remaining associations wished to achieve their objectives through negotiation, and saw the improvement in retirement conditions as a gradual process based on incentives. Awareness of the problems of the sector, however, led some associations other than Fedatrans to support it for several days, and to join the strike committee

The Government remained firm in its response to the demands (its only concession was to allow transport cooperatives to negotiate the purchase of fuel direct from the producers), probably because the strike could have had a "domino effect" and led to similar demands from other sectors. This, in addition to the unpopularity of such strikes which threaten the population's supply of everyday necessities, led to the strike being called off after just two weeks.

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