Spanish truck driver strike triggers supply chain chaos

Social tensions growing across country as electricity, fuel prices soar.

Spanish truck driver strike triggers supply chain chaos

As businesses and consumers across Spain struggle to cope with soaring energy prices, an indefinite nationwide strike organized by small trucking businesses is causing major disruptions across the supply chain.

“The transport strike is obviously affecting me because I have products that aren’t being delivered, products that have left the warehouses but have been stopped by the picketers. Even the big warehouses aren’t getting their supplies. These are essential goods, and it affects everyone,” Alberto Alvarez Gallardo, the owner of an organic food shop in Oviedo, told Anadolu Agency.

He says he has already noticed business slow down by around 35% because of the strike.

Indeed, the Spanish Food and Drink Industry Federation (FIAB), Spain’s leading food and drink business association, has denounced the “serious problems in the food supply chain due to the transport strike.”

And it’s not just grocery stores struggling to fill empty shelves amid a combination of panic buying and fewer deliveries.

On Monday, Inditex, the world’s largest clothing retailer, warned deliveries in Spain may be delayed due to the protest.

Construction associations are also cautioning that projects could soon grind to a halt as key materials are failing to be delivered.

“It is impossible to guarantee adequate distribution of key products for a sector as essential as construction,” said Spain’s largest cement industry associations in a statement. “Supply chains are more and more affected every day and running serious risks of suffering from major cuts or total disruption and collapse.”

The picketing and lack of supplies have already caused some factories, including the Volkswagen plant in Spain’s Navarra region, to shut down production entirely until they can get the needed parts.

This only further exacerbates supply chain issues in Spain, where some other energy-intensive factories, including the country’s top steel producers, have already had to pause production because of dizzying electricity prices.

Meanwhile, several groups of fishermen have decided to stay on dry land for now because of both the threat that their fish will not get delivered and the high prices of boat fuel.

Farmers are also having issues moving fresh products such as milk. Others are not receiving key deliveries of animal feed, which has also become dramatically more expensive due to ongoing inflation and the effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

In some areas, frustrated taxi drivers, farmers, and fishermen have even joined the truckers in their movement.

At the same time, more trucker associations are threatening to join the strike and wreak even more havoc if the government does not do something to soften the blow of record-high diesel prices.

'Violent radicals'

While the strike is not being followed by all Spanish truck drivers, the self-employed and small business owners who are protesting their inability to make a profit have cut traffic in cities, picketed at key distribution areas and are refusing to work until they negotiate with the government.

Since the strike began on March 14, some protesters have also reportedly threatened, thrown rocks at and slashed the tires of other truck drivers.

Massive police deployment of around 24,000 officers has been patrolling highways to limit the protesters’ damage. At least 44 people out striking have been detained and one protester was shot non-fatally.

However, the government has refused to talk with the platform behind the strike, which the Transport Ministry has called “radical” and fueled by the far-right.

“We cannot legitimize what’s happening on our highways,” said Spanish Transport Minister Raquel Sanchez on Thursday. “We will not give in to this blackmail, sabotage, and boycott that is trying to break our supply chains.”

On Monday, three government ministers held a meeting with Spain’s National Road Transport Committee to find a solution, but the platform behind the protests says the strike will not stop until its representatives speak to the government directly.

After the meeting, ministers announced a €500 million ($549 million) aid package for the entire trucking sector. But, the platform said this would not solve their problems, so the strike continues.

“The agreements that the government has reached with the major associations do not serve the interests of small transport businesses. We’re the ones who own the trucks, who pay for diesel, who pay taxes, and we can’t continue like this,” self-employed truck driver Manuel Perez told Anadolu Agency. “We simply need to be able to make a living from our work.”

Manuel Hernandez, the head of the platform behind the strike, says the government is unfairly criminalizing the truck drivers.

Political headache

While the transport platform has been cheered on by members of the far-right Vox party and striking truck drivers have voiced frustration with the current government, it claims to be apolitical.

Other politicians, such as Alberto Nunez Feijoo from the center-right Popular Party, have also slammed the government’s handling of the strike.

“It’s difficult to see a storm like this forming while the government is only focused on looking for people to blame instead of finding solutions,” he said. “When people are worried, they take to the streets, and then, when on top of that they’re insulted by the government, it only makes the already heated conflict worse.”

The strike could hardly come at a worse time for Spain’s government, which has called on society to be patient regarding high energy prices.

The truckers “are playing right into (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s hand,” commented Spain’s Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero.

Politicians are well aware that electricity prices are threatening to damper Spain’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and have been scrambling to find solutions at a European level.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has been on a European tour meeting with other leaders to talk about energy prices and hopes a new EU strategy will be agreed on at this week’s European Council meeting.

Short of that, Spain said it will announce domestic measures to reduce the burden of energy prices on March 29, more than a month after Russia attacked Ukraine.

In February, before the war in Ukraine broke out and sent energy prices soaring, energy prices had already pushed inflation in Spain up by 7.6% – the highest level in 35 years.