25 Years Ago, Truck Drivers Almost Shut Down Europe

By: ClassADrivers.com

Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

Do you know your truck driver history?

At Class A Drivers, we’re always promoting the fact that truck drivers are the essential workers. From food to fuel to other critical supplies, truck drivers are responsible for almost everything we need. This hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years.

In fact, a truck driver strike shut down millions worth of European commerce in the beginning of November 1997. This event was covered in major US news outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times.

Let’s take a step into the time machine to see what happened.

November 1997 – Truck Drivers Demand Change

Truck drivers, fed up with low pay and long hours, had been negotiating with Lionel Jospin, former Prime Minister of France. According to the French Ministry of Transport, the average driver pay was 7,735 francs for 250 hours per month.

The French truck drivers requested 10,000 francs per month and a limit of 200 hours per month. Union spokespeople argued that drivers were spending up to 61 hours per week behind the wheel, which was well over the 48-hour maximum of working hours allowed by the European Union.

The government attempted to reach an agreement, but unions rejected the deal.

Truck Drivers “Threaten Chaos”

The truck drivers debated whether they should go through with a strike. A strike the previous year had yielded a strong settlement for truck drivers.

The previous year truck drivers earned a retirement age of 55, a 3,000 franc bonus for truck drivers, and fully paid detention time for loading and unloading (something that American truck drivers still do not have). Although it must be said, that many French companies were reluctant to follow through with the deal.

The New York Times warned that a driver strike was “threatening chaos in neighboring countries that rely on the trans-European highways running through France.”

Such is the power of the truck driver.

Strike! The Truck Drivers Unite.

The new strike began on November 2, 1997. More than 320,000 truck drivers participated.

The French drivers blocked traffic on hundreds of highways. Up to 180 barricades went up. Many foreign European Union drivers in France were stopped due to blockades of border crossings.

The truck drivers also flexed their power by blockading fuel depots. Regular citizens panicked and made a rush on gasoline and fuel stations.

Such a large strike in the heart of the European Union threatened to shut down

The government of Prime Minister Jospin used force against strikes and blockades on the Spanish and German borders, but mostly tried to negotiate a settlement.

The Strike Ends

Representing about 80% of truck drivers in France, the French Democratic Labor Confederation (CFDT) was the major party to negotiate an end to the deal.

The terms were as follows: Truck drivers would get their 10,000 franc per month and a limit of 200 working hours per month, but these changes would not be reached until the year 2000.

Many of the smaller truck driver unions disagreed with the deal, with some calling it a sellout move.

Regardless, the deal was done. Due to the effect on foreign commerce, the government of Prime Minister Jospin agreed to compensate other countries for their losses, which allegedly tallied in the millions.