by Fabian Ommar, The Organic Prepper:
When I opened my browser and read Daisy’s article about a truckers’ strike threat in U.S., I felt a tightening in the chest. As the article mentions, we went precisely through that in Brazil less than three years ago. All I could think was, this is serious. And yes: it can be big. And ugly too. I’m here to tell this story. To give a heads-up about the risks, and maybe help you get prepared.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and the 5th in the world. Population 210 million, with ten cities over 1.5 million people. São Paulo alone (the biggest and richest) is 13 million souls. That is where I live, with its endless buildings, avenues, malls, parks, restaurants, traffic jams, pollution, and stress. Despite some obvious differences, I suspect someone from L.A. or N.Y. would feel quite at home here, or in Rio de Janeiro (7 million).
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I mention all that to trace an important parallel
Even though the U.S. is bigger than Brazil in area (15%), population (60%), and economy (statistics vary between 8-10 times), both countries have a somewhat similar infrastructure and ground transportation model. Both are continental, urbanized nations (88% in Brazil, pretty close to U.S. 85%).
Historically, both have a logistics system largely based on roads and trucks, big and small, to transit and deliver products and goods.
Thus, when we talk about truckers, we refer to a crucial cog of the system. Not only that: it is a vast, capillary category of workers with colossal power, long and wide reaches, and high organization and mobilization capacity.
I see most of the world headed toward system instability right now.
System instability, strikes and what that leads to
The thing is, life in a “developing country” (a.k.a. 3rd world before the arrival of political correctness) is what I call a continuous, slow-burning SHTF. Inflation, poverty, violent transit, and crime. Joblessness, homelessness, significant inequalities. Suffocating bureaucracy, decaying infrastructure, and paralyzing levels of (big-size) government corruption and inefficiency. There’s a system in place, but it’s inconsistent and fickle.
This combination leads to a fractured society and a constantly dissatisfied population, which often manifests in protests. During periods of deeper economic turmoil, strikes become a frequent form of protest. That is what happened during the ’80s, and we have a very similar social, political, and economic arrangement shaping up nowadays.
Sure, things have significantly improved for the past 30 years or so, as it has for most of the world. Even with the big protests of 2013, which culminated in President Dilma Roussef’s impeachment in 2016 (the second in recent history – talk about political instability), things have been relatively good and stable for Brazilians in general.
But after the 2008 crisis, something started brewing on the roads, away from the eyes of society.
When transportation fails, everything STOPS
Deep discontents and long-running disputes about the soaring diesel prices/taxes and ever-decreasing freight tariffs reached a boiling point in late 2017. A formal protest against rampant corruption within the government was thrown in for good measure. The rulers of the nation turned a blind eye to the truckers’ demands. Then they decided to show everyone who really runs Bartertown.
On the 21st of May 2018, the entire country woke up to a nationwide truck drivers strike.
From the farm to the industry and back. From the production to the stores. Suddenly nothing moved. Food and fuel had to be escorted by federal forces to warrant minimum supply. Trucks lined roads for miles, practically isolating cities and ports (where ships accumulated). Strike evaders got attacked, their rigs burned or vandalized. Traveling became risky as blockades, gridlocks, and protests broke out in many places.
After only a couple of days, things started to get critical, especially in cities, as long lines formed at gas stations. Cars had to stay home, and public transportation was impaired. Police, ambulances, and trash pick-up got affected. Shelves emptied, driving some products’ prices higher. Soon people had trouble going to work or just moving around. Hospitals, restaurants, and commerce had trouble getting resupplied, wherever that was even a possibility. Suddenly we were facing a large-scale disruption in the production and supply chains.
The system is the people running it
Even though we tend to focus on things, it’s never just about food or fuel. But it is always about people. People are behind everything: production, services, goods. People need stuff, of course. But without people, there’s nothing, and then there’s chaos. It’s always the system you must worry about.
Without fuel, people can’t move, travel, work. The disruption caused by the sudden strike made people tense. When shelves empty and pumps dry, tension quickly turns into desperation and panic. I witnessed fights and brawls over gas and supplies. With the shortages came the protests. Looting and crime rose in some areas, making deliveries even more dangerous and worsening the shortages in those places.
We were fortunate in the sense that the government saw the seriousness and the potential explosiveness of the situation, intervening rather swiftly and decisively to put an end to the strike and get stuff moving again. Had it lasted any longer, no doubt things would have spiraled down.
Officially, the strike lasted ‘only’ 10 days. In reality, it dragged on
Not all truckers agreed about ending the strike over the deal accepted by the leaders. Heck, not even the government was entirely in accordance with itself about the deal offered (unsurprising). The army and federal troops were called to force remnants to comply. It took a while for things to go back to normal in all states and places.
And then there were the ripple effects, some of which can still be felt today. Fresh produce was lost: food, flowers, basics. Contracts were questioned and canceled over delays. Imports and exports got impacted. Tourism, public and private services were affected. In 2018 Brazil started to see a slow recovery after 2008 (not to mention subsequent years of crisis, mismanagement, and rampant corruption). According to some studies, the strike unwound those gains and hammered the 2018 and 2019 G.D.P.s down.
People usually don’t consider the effects of a strike like this. It has serious, disruptive immediate ramifications. But it has a continuous, tailing SHTF-effect that has a direct, lasting impact on the economy and thus on the population. Jobs, income, productivity, commerce, and the standard of living go down. Even with a tailwind, it takes years of hard work and sacrifices to recover from the impact of a 2-3% (or more) fall in economic activity.