The 15 days in which a transport stoppage has put the industry and the shopping basket in trouble

The 15 days in which a transport stoppage has put the industry and the shopping basket in trouble

"We have lived through two weeks of protests fueled by half-truths, by many lies and even more demagoguery." This is how a carrier summarizes, which has not supported the employer's strike that began on March 14how some protests have been fueled, inflamed by the problems that the sector is experiencing, especially due to the cost of fuel.

Two weeks of strikes, incidents and marathon meetings between the sector – one part – and the Government that have had as protagonists a hitherto practically unknown association and its main spokesperson. It is the 'Platform for the defense of the national and international road freight transport sector', or National Platform, as the call for the strikes prefers to call itself, and Manuel Hernández, its president.

"Manuel, without social networks, no one would have known. This has been a strike that has been growing thanks to his videos on Facebook, fattened by the general anger over diesel," he stresses, "and by a government that reacted too late because he thought it wasn't going to be such a big deal.

After more than 15 days of protests, the strikes seem to be deflating, although Platform maintains them. At the beginning of this week, the circulation of heavy vehicles on Spanish roads was close to 95% of a normal day, without stoppages, when last week it was around 70%. This Wednesday it already reached 98%.

The industry acknowledges that after two very complicated weeks, with problems getting supplies to arrive and getting their products out of the factories, it is beginning to glimpse normality, albeit slowly. It will cost, they indicate, to recover from the losses of the last days: only the supermarket sector estimated them at 130 million euros per day.

This Wednesday, the largest association in the sector, the Spanish Confederation of Freight Transport (CETM), lamented the "millionaire losses" that have been caused by the actions of the strike pickets of carriers. Repairing a punctured or cracked wheel, he assured, costs 600 euros; each moon, 500.

The Platform calling for the indefinite stoppages in transport has become the protagonist of recent weeks, practically to the same extent as its president, Manuel Hernández, who has been marking the pace of the stoppages by means of videos on networks. In fact, this Wednesday, while the protest was running out of steam and there was speculation of an end to the strike, the Platform published on its website that "only the president's statements will be considered valid through videos edited by him."

Hernández began to stand out in mid-2021, when he began to be active in networks and claim that the transport sector had to "speak in bars and docks." He appeared as president of Platform, an association active for almost 15 years (it was created in 2008), made up of truckers from Lugo and Albacete.

The leader of Platform is from the Albacete town of Hellín, but his name does not appear among the constituent members of the association. This assures that it started as a split of associations that were part of the National Committee of Road Transport (CNTC) -the official representative of the sector- and that they sought to give "a wake-up call to the directors" of that committee.

Platform is registered as an association since May 2008, as recorded in the Ministry of the Interior. And just a few weeks after it was created, in June of that year, it was one of the most active organizations in the truckers' strike that, with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in Moncloa, paralyzed highways and emptied supermarkets. So, Platform, like now, she was the last to get off the strikes.

"The association had practically disappeared, but Manuel reactivated it, in these weeks. In his videos, he has said what the majority of the sector wanted to hear, even requests that are impossible, such as setting minimum rates for us, and it has become a star", assures one of the members of the Committee. "It's very simple. This sector cannot work with minimum prices because the European Union prohibits them, we had them until 1992, but they were prohibited," insists another CNTC source, who also prefers to remain anonymous.

The role of Platform and Manuel Hernández increased with the call for an indefinite strike. This was decided in an assembly in Madrid's Palacio de Vistalegre, on March 5. Since then, Hernández has constantly demanded to meet with the Ministry of Transport, assuming the representativeness of the sector.

Hernández, who has not responded to' request to speak with him, owned (no longer) trucks, according to different sources. Both he and the family business, Transportes Manolin e Hijos SL, filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of 2018. "And what difference does it make if his company has gone wrong and he closed it. Mine are going wrong too, like this continues like this, I will end up going bankrupt like him", assured last Friday Francisco, one of the truckers who demonstrated in Madrid.

The person in charge of Platform does appear in the register of carriers of the Ministry of Transport, but the company is extinct. In the year prior to ceasing its activity, it had a net worth of 68,431.17 euros and a liability of 284,106 euros. Of this last figure, almost 190,000 euros were debts with credit institutions. In that year of 2017, the company entered 812,208 euros, had a profit of 22,255 euros and only had one person on staff, a woman, according to its annual report.

In these two weeks much has been said about the Link between Platform and Hernández himself with Vox and with the extreme rightincluding a photo in which the transporter appears together with members of that political formation and of a brotherhood from Hellín, which he published in Twitter the spokesman for United We Can in Congress, Pablo Echenique. Hernández has not clarified whether he is part of Vox, the brotherhood or both.

He has assured in different media that his association is not linked to a political movement, but in Friday's demonstration there were flags of Solidarity, the Vox union – although they were not in the majority – and the far-right formation has supported the protest.

What the transport sector does see clearly is that Hernández is going to take advantage of the support to grow his organization, attract members and reduce the representativeness of other associations.

Limiting the problem of carriers, truckers, to the demands of Manuel Hernández and Platform does not exactly reflect the reality of a sector where there is much more storm surge and swell.

In these two weeks, the sector has made clear its division and its problems of representation and dialogue with the Government. This was seen on Monday 21, when the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda sealed an agreement with the National Committee for Road Transport (CNTC) to inject 500 million euros to operators through rebates for fuel purchases. It was the first major attempt to stop the protest.

The agreement became a dead letter in minutes, because several associations that make up this Committee – and that had signed the agreement after hours of meeting with Minister Raquel Sánchez – droppedarguing that it was not enough, and causing discomfort in the Government, which had dressed the CNTC as the only legitimate body and the official 'voice' of transport.

This National Committee for Road Transport is the official representative body of a sector that has historically tended towards associations and where more than 80% of truck drivers are self-employed. It is the same body that raised a strike at the gates of last Christmas, which was called off after an agreement with the Government to improve their working conditions and that, having seen what has been seen, did not calm the sector.

The CNTC is elected periodically, every four years (it has just been re-elected until 2025) and there is no Platform on it because, according to different sources, until now it has not had sufficient guarantees. To be part of the CNTC, the associations have to meet two conditions: that the sum of their partners is at least 6% of the members of the group of associations that are part of the section of the Committee in question; or that its partners are holders of at least 6% of the authorizations corresponding to all the members of the associations that make up the section.

"Then, the Ministry checks that data, sends letters to the affiliates to verify that they are affiliated and, if you lie, they will subtract them," explains a member of the CNTC when justifying why they have the representation of the truckers.

Currently, the most representative associations are the Spanish Confederation of Freight Transport (CETM), Fenadismer, Fetransa and Feintra. These last three were the ones that dropped out of the agreement sealed on Monday 21, although part of its members, mostly self-employed, had already joined the strikes, either out of conviction or out of fear of damage to their vehicles.

However, Platform, without being in it –it cannot enter before 2025– has set the pace and delved into the differences in the sector, attributing itself to the success of some strikes that, according to the loading companies –those that hire carriers to carry their goods–, it has been a "state problem".

Precisely, the pressure from the industry due to the economic damage and the cessation of production at a time of crisis like the current one with a war at the gates of the European Union set off the alarms, forced the meetings with the CNTC to be accelerated and led to the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, to promise that if no agreement was reached, no one would get up from the table; although the conveners were not at that table.

On Friday the 25th, at 2 in the morning, the Ministry of Transport and the CNTC They reached an agreement in which, basically, the sector was promised rebates for the purchase of fuel, monthly instead of quarterly partial refund of the Tax on Hydrocarbons for professional diesel consumption and, above all, direct aid. In total, 450 million euros, at a rate of 1,250 euros per truck or 500 per van.

That agreement was not enough for Platform and for part of the transport sector, which also demands a change in the organization model of the sector that avoids contracting at a loss. For this reason, on Friday he maintained the demonstration called in Madrid and the strikes.

"They have tried to stop the movement below the Ministry, in Gregorio Marañón, they wanted to cut off the Castellana, but when they found out that the minister was going to meet with them they turned around," one of the policemen explained to who watched the march.

That change of criteria of the minister Raquel Sánchez, who after having repeatedly refused to meet with Manuel Hernández – for not being the official voice of the sector – agreed to see him, muffled the criticism. "We also saw well that he explained the agreement we reached at dawn, to see if she convinced him," they indicate from the CNTC. However, after that meeting, Hernández stated that the strike was still going on.

A few days later, normality seems to return to the roads and ports. In part, they assure carriers, because the accounts and finances "are not there to continue without working and losing customers." Also, because some freelancers with dependent workers and unemployed companies would have given two weeks of vacation to employees, coinciding with the mobilizations. And the 15 days have already passed.

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