By Kwesi P. Dean
Posted October 26, 2020
But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)
COVID19 has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.
Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..
The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”
But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased. As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.
Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,
Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.
The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms. Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.
COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”
1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification, The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification
He has always been contrary.
He’s one of the most intellectually curious people I know. He taught himself to speak German by reading a scientific textbook and looking up and logging the words and phrases he didn’t know, page by page, until he finished the book. Disciplined, he pursues his interests through reading, observation and conversation, all the while not taking himself or others too seriously. His talent for languages, he speaks five, and handling people led him to work check-in and customer service at a local airport. It was a great place for him to exercise his skills of observation and practice crisis management with a smile with people from all over the world. It’s no wonder that he’s now doing that as a social worker for his adopted country.
A secret to his success has always been looking right when people tell him to look left. He’s great at finding new ways of thinking about situations and new possibilities with his clients. He’s effective because he finds solutions that work both for his clients and the agency instead of covering his ass with endless orders about what people must do. I think my fellow immigrants who get to work with him are lucky.
From the beginning, we talked about watching the spread of Covid-19 like being stuck on the tracks with a slow moving train heading our way. Having to deal with it was inevitable and neither of us knew what that would mean. We knew it could change everything. We didn’t know it would change us.
Just as soon as we started to get information about the virus and its spread, a number of medical doctors and scientists started to offer their take on what was happening and what should or shouldn’t be done. They weren’t offering research, they weren’t publishing in peer reviewed journals. They were going straight to the public through social media to make their pronouncements with a political agenda. My friend found many alternate views from these doctors that fit his need to find something contrary to the government and big media line. It was Stuart Hall’s Reception Theory in practice. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch, the notion that something seemed off about the government line wouldn’t go away. He felt he was being lied to. He couldn’t accept the uncertainty nor the limits he felt on his freedom.
It started with him forwarding me videos of Covid denier doctors. All of them had a similar pattern, great sounding questions followed by unfounded answers that would lead to more great sounding questions. It was like watching a “documentary” about ancient aliens. Underneath it all was the notion that someone is doing this to us for some reason.
At first, I would point out all of the logical problems in the videos, thanks to Carl Sagan, and justify going along with social distancing as the most responsible thing to do in an uncertain situation. As I debunked one source, there was always another. I soon realized that no amount of logic was going to satisfy him. The belief that the situation isn’t right wouldn’t go away. Science and logic, with all of their hypotheses, alternatives and maybes will never beat the comfort of a firmly held belief.
The biggest collective, emotional event our generation has ever experienced soon became something we couldn’t talk about anymore.
It is an effort to talk to him now as we steer clear of the pandemic. Luckily, there is plenty to talk about and there is also a third rail in our conversations that wasn’t there before. Recently, talking about what I miss about concerts and dancing led to a lecture that echoed Donald Trump’s advice to not let the virus change my life. He accused me of living in fear and something broke between us.
The pandemic will pass, eventually. Will our relationships heal? I don’t know and I can live with that.