Fuel Prices Put China’s Drivers in Reverse

The Financial Times reports on anger from truck drivers over rising fuel prices, which led to the recent strike at the Shanghai port:

A strike by lorry drivers at Shanghai’s port led to pitched battles with security forces last week, illustrating just how volatile the politics of high fuel prices can be in China.

Operations at what is, by some measures, the world’s largest port appeared to be returning to normal on Sunday evening after the Shanghai city government ordered authorities to cut fees and reduce road tolls in an attempt to get drivers back to work.

But the complaints of Shanghai’s lorry drivers as they slowly return to work are being echoed across the country as high fuel prices cut into profit margins for China’s independent truckers.

China’s transportation sector is struggling to cope after the government raised fuel prices twice this year in response to increasing global oil prices.

Trucking is big business in China, with road freight revenues amounting to $129.7bn last year, according to research from Datamonitor. And for young men from the countryside, buying a truck to tap into that sector is a big step up the economic ladder.

Reuters has more on the strike:

The drivers’ strike disrupted shipments at China’s busiest port and brought shivers of unrest about rising costs and fees to Shanghai, which has sought to remake itself as a symbol of outward-looking prosperity.

Over the weekend, the Shanghai government cut fees in a bid to defuse anger over high fuel prices among the independent contractors who haul goods to and from the city’s string of ports. Many drivers working as company employees on fixed wages did not join the protest.

The strike, which began on Wednesday, was a brief but telling symptom of the pressures facing the Chinese government over inflation, which in March hit 5.4 percent from a year earlier, magnifying the ruling Communist Party’s jitters about protests erupting over prices, taxes and fees.

By Monday morning, it appeared that the Shanghai government’s push to douse the discontent was working. Roads leading to the city’s docks were busy with traffic.

Yet the New York Times reports that the striking truck drivers planned to resume protests later this week:

A group of truck drivers who helped stage a three-day strike here last week over rising oil prices and high government fees said Sunday that they planned to resume their demonstrations this week, despite this city’s promise to eliminate some freight transportation fees and reduce others.

Policemen arrested a man on Friday after he threw rocks at a truck during protests over city government policies.

“This is really small money,” one truck owner said of the city’s concessions in an interview Sunday. He asked not to be named because he feared the government would punish him.

“The real problem is high oil prices and the way the government has cheated us with fines and extra fees,” he said. “The whole system stinks.”

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