More than 23,000 Spanish police in patrol cars and helicopters are escorting convoys of trucks along the country’s highways and holding back picketers
MADRID — More than 23,000 Spanish police in patrol cars and helicopters escorted convoys of trucks along the country’s highways and held back picketers Friday, as authorities sought to keep supply chains working amid a truckers’ strike over high fuel prices and other grievances.
Pickets threw burning tires onto a highway in northwestern Spain overnight, national media reported. Police have made at least two arrests.
Police units on Friday deployed at junctions and logistics hubs and escorted convoys, including one of trucks carrying gas and another, 30 vehicles long, heading to pick up animal fodder, state-owned news agency EFE said.
As some sectors reported supply problems on the fifth day of the open-ended walkout, the government repeated its claims that far-right sympathizers are inciting the strike called by a group of mostly self-employed truckers.
Finance Minister María Jesús Montero told reporters the strike amounts to “extortion which the far-right is exploiting to prevent produce and food being distributed.”
The striking truckers deny far-right links. In a statement late Thursday on their website, they said the government “is trying to criminalize and place ideological labels on a sector which only wants to live from its work and which feels excluded and disrespected by the country’s leaders.”
The Platform for the Defense of the Road Transport Sector, which called the strike, says it appeared spontaneously in 2008. It was created by six truckers in Spain’s northwest Galicia region who were disaffected with national trucking associations, its website says.
The group is not affiliated with larger national trucking associations, nor with road haulage companies, and does not sit at the sector’s negotiating table with the government. The group did not immediately respond to a question about how many members it has. Most Spanish truckers are still working.
The self-employed truckers are flexing their economic muscle with the strike, however, and are using the walkout to pressure the government into giving in to their demands on a range of issues. Businesses in the cement, mining and dairy sectors are among those warning that stocks are running low or that they are having trouble distributing their goods.
The self-employed truckers say that what they are being paid for hauling loads doesn’t cover their costs, which have soared with rising fuel prices. They also claim that large distribution companies engage in unfair competition, forcing down the prices for freight, and demand better working conditions, including retirement at age 60.
France has also seen scattered protests this week against soaring fuel prices. Farmers, road hauliers and fishing crews have set up temporary barricades, using their vehicles and burning palettes to block roads.
The attacks by roadside picketers this week in Spain have allegedly included throwing rocks at trucks on the road, tearing cargo tarps and puncturing truck tires, as well as threatening working drivers with violence.
“The provision of food and basic services is not a trivial matter,” Farm Minister Luis Planas said. “It’s a constitutional issue which has to do with freedom of movement.”
The Spanish government says it plans to introduce measures against high energy and fuel prices later this month.
John Leicester in Paris contributed.