Truck Driver Strikes of 1979
However, it wasn't long before the U.S. had another truckers strike on its hands. This time, it was the independent truckers, again with Parkhurst taking the lead, along with Bill Hall of the Fraternal Association of Steel Haulers. Over 100,000 independent long-haul truckers stopped driving in the summer of 1979. The issue at the core of the protest was the soaring price of diesel fuel, which independent drivers said was depriving them of the chance to earn a living, although Parkhurst was also a strong advocate for deregulation. His view was that independent truckers were "slaves" to the system that controlled the trucking industry and he believed it was in the best interest of the industry and the truckers themselves to get an opportunity compete with the big companies.
The independent truckers strike that summer was far more disruptive than the Teamsters work stoppage. Some of the more disgruntled in the group parked their rigs in front of refineries and distribution centers, disrupting the shipment of gasoline. Some pulled their trucks right up to the pumps at gas stations to block the motorists. The state of Florida lost millions of dollars as the strike came in the heart of watermelon season and the governor was forced to call in National Guard
troops to transport gas from Port Everglades, a major fuel depot. If you had the misfortune to plan a long-distance move during the strike, you may have found your furniture still in another state, waiting to join you in your new home.
As the strike wore on, the ramifications became more serious than rotting watermelon, lost furniture, and gas shortages. The CBs that were used to organize strikers in 1973 were now used to issue death threats to those who refused to honor the strike. Tempers flared and violence broke out in over 20 states. In Ohio, the National Guard patrolled highway overpasses to protect the truckers who were still on the road and their windshields became targets for flying rocks. Alabama Governor Fob James suggested that truckers arm themselves for protection after Robert Tate, a non-striking trucker from Birmingham, was murdered on June 20. Two striking truckers shot at Tate from an overpass on U.S. 72 near Tuscumbia, Alabama. A bullet severed his femoral artery in his left leg and he bled to death in the cab of his truck before help arrived.
In some cities, as angry motorists waited for hours in gas lines for gas that was now up to 80 cents a gallon, double what it had been a year before, strikers egged them on and urged them to join their cause. The cause of the independent truckers was not just fuel costs. They were battling a system that, at times, had seemingly petty regulations, such as permitting any driver to haul raisins but only specific companies were authorized to transport raisins covered with chocolate. Time magazine reported in July 1979, "The independent truckers are trying to blow apart a time-honored system, and that drives the Teamsters, the trucking industry and various politicians and lobbyists right up the wall..." Many independent truckers believed that deregulation was at least part of the solution to their financial crisis.
Support for the strike ultimately faded as President Carter instituted measures in June to hold down the costs of diesel fuel and many strikers could no longer afford not to work. Major changes came to the trucking industry in the 1980s with deregulation. Neither the Teamsters nor independent drivers were major players in the trucking industry anymore, but they are both still part of an important – and volatile – era in trucking history.
By Amy Lively