Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Striking Drivers in Spain

AOG, Madrid

For the last couple of days, a group of truck (lorry) drivers representing only about 20% of their sector have been striking because of the high price of Diesel in Spain. Scuffles have broken between protesting truckers and strike-breakers on the second day of a road transport strike and drivers have blocked deliveries across the country. This video from Reuters has some good images on the situation.

The Spanish media have been following the story rather closely. The fear of empty markets and supermarket shelves gathering dust is a reality only just now really beginning show on people's minds.

Shoppers and car drivers have been stockpiling fuel and food fearing shortages. On the news this morning it was the top story. Hidden camera footage showed customers walking past empty shelves at a major supermarket.

The Government has told Police to avoid clashing with protesters and yesterday it reached a deal with truck drivers, however it is not them who called the strike but rather their Union.

President Zapatero has not really been seen much on television and the opposition is asking why not. Public opinion is upset since during March's general election, the Socialists refuted all claims of the possibility of an economic crisis. They have a point.

Some journalists are asking why fuel is being delivered with armed escort but food isn't.

A 47 year old driver was killed when he was trying to stop a truck from breaking the picket line and making a delivery- he got caught on the undercarriage of the vehicle and was dragged for about 50-60 meters and his body laid on the road for two hours before it was taken away. "Now the strike really begins" strikers have declared after learning about Julio's death as they walked out of negotiations this morning.

There is a real fear that things will worsen. Pro-Government journalists, such as Joaquín Estefanía have defended the Government's reluctance to reach a long-term deal arguing that the price of oil can change from one day to the next and that it would be futile to agree on a minimum price.

Unfortunately, the same Minister whose management of the high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona was highly criticised because of its problems and delays is in charge of negotiations. Magdalena Álvarez is well known for replying to criticism by alluding to her sex and the fact that she is from Malaga and taking everything personally and by not actually responding to them.

I hope she fares better at dealing with strikers.

In the meantime, the driver's go-slow strike has all but collapsed most of Spain's roads and highways for the third day running.

They have also tried to close Spain off from the rest of Europe by striking at border posts between Spain, Portugal and France. The image shows the border pass at Girona, in Northern Spain.

The strike is affecting not only prices, there is talk of inflation reaching its highest level for 12 years. It is also affecting Spain's agricultural production. Tons of spoiled fruit and milk has been thrown away since it cannot be picked up because of the pickets.

I went to my local "DÍA" lo-cost supermarket and saw only empty shelves where perishable produce should have been. No meats (except for salami, chorizo and other types of cold meats) no chicken, beef, pork or lamb. As for fish, only the forzen variety, and then not much- a testimony to the Spanish' distaste for frozen foods. I, having no such distaste, bought some frozen salmon and vegetables and had that for dinner.

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