The Independent Truckers Association called off its 11-day-old strike yesterday, several days after it became obvious that the sometimes-violent shutdown had failed to interrupt commerce in any significant way.
ITA President Mike Parkhurst, surrounded by loyal followers and accompanied by three congressmen, said during a sometimes-raucous news conference that the strike had accomplished "more than we have ever been able to in the past."
When Parkhurst called for the shutdown, he said truckers were demanding repeal of new federal taxes on diesel fuel and truck use, a ceiling on state trucking taxes and "meaningful discussion" of the 55 mph speed limit.
What Parkhurst got was a page-long "Expression of Concern," signed by about 40 members of Congress, according to Rep. Peter H. Kostmayer (D-Pa.). The statement said that "a thriving, diverse trucking industry is an interest we all share" and that "the review of these tax and user fee increases is definitely in order, in our opinion."
There is nothing in the statement about state taxes or the 55 mph speed limit. Kostmayer, asked about them, responded, "That does not mean we do not share Parkhurst's concern," and predicted that many more members of Congress will sign the statement in days to come.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole said later, "We are pleased by today's announcement calling for an end to the attempted shutdown of highway commerce," and said DOT officials are "ready and willing" to discuss various trucking issues with "responsible representatives of the industry."
During the shutdown, one trucker, a North Carolina Teamsters union member, was shot and killed and at least 97 people were injured in various incidents. According to United Press International, there were more than 650 shooting incidents and almost 2,000 other acts of vandalism against truckers.
Violence decreased markedly in recent days as state police stepped up patrols and truckers formed convoys. Many drivers undoubtedly stopped working for a time last week, but with excess capacity in the trucking industry estimated at 30 to 40 percent, shippers were able to move goods. Railroads reported significant increases in traffic.
Despite a few spot shortages, particularly in produce, the strike was generally ineffective, according to monitors from the Agriculture and Transportation departments.
By the time Parkhurst called for an end to the shutdown yesterday, many of those who had stopped driving were back on the road.
The independent drivers own and operate their rigs, often leasing their services to larger companies. It is estimated that they account for one-fifth to one-third of all truck drivers.
The Teamsters and the American Trucking Associations, which represents most companies, did not support the strike, although they oppose the new taxes.
Hecklers, apparently from rival driver groups, interrupted Parkhurst several times during his news conference. A man who later identified himself as George Sullivan, of what he called the Independent Drivers' Unity Committee, led the heckling, shouting, "This is the worst we've ever had. We got nothing." Parkhurst, he said, "isn't even a trucker."
One of those standing beside Parkhurst stepped forward and shouted, "I'm a trucker and he speaks for me." Others around Parkhurst applauded. Shouting and some minor shoving ensued before Kostmayer restored order. The other congressmen standing beside Parkhurst were Reps. Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.) and Douglas Applegate (D-Ohio).
Parkhurst was challenged continually by reporters and hecklers to demonstrate that he had won anything. He handed out a collection of one-sentence press excerpts, much in the style and context of the reviews that appear in movie ads, reporting various transportation difficulties created by the strike.
The truckers who stayed out, Parkhurst said, "are fighters, not sacrificial lambs." He said he would maintain a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to follow up the gains of his shutdown.
Parkhurst is editor and publisher of Overdrive magazine, which is sold for $2.50 in truck stops. He is also the founder of the ITA, which he says has 30,000 of the 100,000 independent long-haul truckers.
Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, whom Parkhurst badly needs if the truck taxes are to be revised, was asked at a news conference last Saturday if he would meet with Parkhurst.
Dole said, "I talked to him two or three years ago. It was useless then. He's a troublemaker." At another point Dole said, "I'm not offering any comfort to the Mike Parkhursts of the world."
While Parkhurst was meeting with Applegate and Kostmayer, both junior representatives, Dole met Wednesday with Mark Perry of the rival Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.