Closing the Mexico-US Border to Big Trucks

This month, March 2009, saw the termination of the Bush administration’s cross border trucking pilot program between the US and Mexico. The program was killed as a part of the Omnibus budget legislation.

The pilot program was very modest in scale. A handful of Mexican companies received licenses to carry goods in the US. (The total number of trucks and drivers was about 150.) Their right to operate here was granted as a part of the NAFTA. And this was a full and complete right. They have been constrained since 1995 for what appears to be political reasons. This constraint was without legal basis and unfair.

Speaking summarily, the Democrat Party, in support of the Teamsters’ and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association’s (OOIDA) positions that Mexican trucking in the US is a bad thing, has worked to keep the US closed to Mexican truckers. The objections raised initially were that Mexican trucks are unsafe (presumably because they are poorly maintained) and that Mexican drivers lack competence. Neither of these arguments is correct. Mexican trucks and drivers have no greater issues than US trucks do. The machines break, and drivers need experience, training, and appropriate rest, but these are manageable matters.

The real concern is twofold. First, trucking operations in the US suffer from overcapacity, and, second, there is a difference between what Mexican and US drivers earn. Mexicans earn less. They can, therefore, operate for less. (Other costs, fuel, financing, maintenance, and depreciation, for instance, are probably quite similar.)

US truckers fear for their jobs and livelihood.

President Barack Obama, who has shown no shortage of duplicity on the matter of the NAFTA, is said to be planning a visit to Mexico in April. He is expected to have a new trucking proposal in hand. He is urged along by the fact that the Mexicans, in response to the closing of the pilot program, have instituted tariffs on 90 (or so) US goods and foodstuffs.

According to Bloomberg (Skrzycki, 2009/03/03), the value of US truck trade between the US and Mexico is $230 billion, annually.

That is what I know of the ‘big picture.’

My goal is to connect the US-Mexico situation to an opportunity for Parecon, and I hope that the Znet might become a portal.

I am a truck driver, once a Teamster and now a member of the OOIDA. I occasionally pick up produce in Yuma, Arizona. Some of this produce is fresh from Mexican fields. Beyond that I have no connection to Mexico at all. All of my driving is on the US side of the border.

An idea occurred to me, and I thought I might raise it with you.

I am convinced that in one way or another, Mexican trucks and drivers will begin to circulate in the United States. And, I would hope, US drivers, like myself, will be able to deliver and pick-up in Mexico. Moreover, it would seem, if this is done well, it would be an opportunity to develop a way of working that would move towards Parecon.

Expressed simply: an appropriate response to the opening of the border to trucks is collaboration, not plutocrat to plutocrat, an outcome I’m afraid President Obama’s visit makes likely, but trucker to trucker.

Reality check: I have no one with whom to collaborate. I am afraid to go to Mexico. I don’t have the ‘knowledge.’ I need training in Mexico. I need language skills. I need a customer, and I need a truck.

I’ll wager there’s a Mexican driver with the same list for the US.

This letter will not explain how to manage an international trucking business along Parecon lines, because I don’t know how to do that.

I do propose a first step, though, and that is teaming. Teaming is when two drivers share a truck. Teaming has two objectives. One is training. The other is continuous operation, which brings a financial premium. It would provide two truckers, a Mexican and an American, with the opportunity to confront the realities of organizing ownership, operation and remuneration along the lines of Parecon.

Surely, it would be a useful discussion, and perhaps much more.

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