A convoy of about 30 tractor-trailer trucks arrived in Washington yesterday as part of a nationwide protest by independent operators over the rising prices and decreasing availability of diesel fuel and other more longstanding grievances.
The big rigs moved peacefully through the city - the drivers cooperating with police and parking in the center lane of Independence Avenue during rush hour to avoid snarling traffic.
But protest organizers hinted at the posibility of major local disruptions plus a coast-to-coast strike if their demands are not met soon.
"This is our last-ditch effort, today," said Bill Scheffer, national vice president of the Independent Truckers Association. "I don't know if you remember what happened in 1974," he said, referring to a 10-day strike in which nearly 100,000 independent truckers participated. "It was a grim thing."
Elsewhere in the country truckers were blockading truck stops and bringing traffic to a crawl on several major highways, particularly in the West and Midwest. About 300 rigs blocked the intersection of I-94 and the Indiana Toll Road for several hours early yesterday morning.
Minor incidents were reported in Florida, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. Six truckers were arrested in Connecticut after they left their rigs parked in front of one filling station's pumps for six hours.
Scheffer said the Carter administration's energy policy lies at the center of the truckers' grievances. "We want 100 percent allocation [of diesel fuel] to the truck stops," he said.
Scheffer and other drivers said they do not believe there is a real fuel shortage, despite Department of Energy statements to the contrary. "They're using the oil company figures which haven't been accurate since the Teapot Dome scandal," Scheffer said.
The independent owner-operators, who came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and several other states, said they also were protesting government regulations which give major control over interstate trucking to large carrier companies. CAPTION: Picture, A convoy of tractor-trailer trucks moved peacefully past the White House Thursday, protesting the price and scarcity of diesel fuel. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post