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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Truck Drivers in Shanghai Plan to Resume Protests

“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.”

The huge demonstrations that took place here last week, with as many as 2,000 drivers, disrupted one of this city’s biggest ports. Some protesters threw rocks, smashed windows and even tried to overturn police cars.

Several truck drivers were arrested after scuffles with the police, witnesses said, while others were detained for questioning.

Shanghai officials could not be reached for comment on Sunday and a spokeswoman for the Shanghai Port did not answer her cellphone.

On Sunday, police cars were stationed in the city’s port districts and operations seemed normal. But some truck drivers who participated in the protests said that many trucks were idled because the owners wanted to express dissatisfaction with the government.

“You can see a lot of abandoned trucks along the roads nearby,” said another driver, who declined to be named. “A lot of truck owners are doing that to show they don’t like the system.”

The demonstrations last week were the latest sign of growing unease in China about soaring inflation. People in many parts of the country say their incomes can no longer keep pace with rising food, energy and housing prices.

Some evidence of the problem came just over a week ago, when China said its consumer price index — its main gauge of inflation — rose 5.4 percent in March, its biggest increase in 32 months.

Beijing has promised to make fighting inflation its No. 1 priority this year. In recent months, the government has announced a raft of new anti-inflation measures, including a tightening of bank credit and offers of subsidies to farmers and taxi drivers.

But the moves do not appear to be working well. Food prices jumped 11.7 percent in March, and energy prices continue to climb.

The government recently raised the price of gasoline to keep it in line with global oil prices. That move set off the truck protest in Shanghai, which is similar to a taxi driver protest a few years ago in the city of Chongqing in central China.

In that protest, Chongqing officials quickly offered concessions, apparently because the government did not want the demonstrations to spread.

Several other cities followed by offering their own taxi subsidies.

The truck drivers and owners protesting in Shanghai seem to be hoping for a similar outcome. Some complain that the Shanghai government recently offered local taxi drivers $36 to $70 a month in fuel subsidies, while ignoring companies owned by truck drivers, most of whom are not Shanghai residents.

“Why is the city giving so much money to the taxicab drivers?” the first truck owner asked Sunday. “We are transporting goods for the export market and helping the country. Taxicabs are a luxury. Many of their customers can take a bus or subway.”

Another common complaint is that state-owned companies are reporting record profits, mostly in industries where they operate monopolies. As state companies, critics say, they should lower prices and give bigger benefits to the people.

On Sunday afternoon a group of truck drivers and owners gathered at a depot to complain about the government’s policies, saying that the local police impose stiff fines for small infractions and that the city’s port operators often demand bribes to process shipments.

Many of the drivers said they were organizing through text messages. And they vowed to smash the windows of drivers — or even harm them — if they tried to pass the blockades.

Several drivers said the police had taken down their cellphone and license plate numbers and used police dogs to harass organizers. But they said they were teaming up to demand that the government reduce fees and put an end to corruption and mistreatment of trucking companies.

One driver shared a poem he said the demonstrators were passing around. It read, in part: “We borrowed money to buy a truck to earn a living; not knowing that making money is this difficult; we endured all the bitterness and rudeness; submitting to all the mistreatment with flattering smiles; those who wear the clothes of the government hold all the power; and they look upon us with unsightly donkey faces; like we owe them money for a sacrificial offering.”


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