Truckin’

signing of the Staggers Rail Act (source)

Until 1980, long-haul truckers were generally employed by regulated companies whose routes and rates had to pass muster with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Under the terms of the 1935 Motor Carrier Act, the ICC kept potential lowball, low-wage competitors out of the market. Drivers were also highly unionized, under a Master Freight Agreement between the Teamsters and close to 1,000 trucking firms. For which reasons, truck driving was a pretty damn good blue-collar job, with decent pay, livable hours, and ample benefits.

The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 changed all that, scrapping the rules of the 1935 act so that startups, charging far less than the pre-1980 rates and paying their drivers far less as well, flooded the market. Facing that competition, established companies dropped their rates and pay scales, too. By 1998, drivers were making between 30 percent and 40 percent less than their pre-1980 predecessors had made. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, following the steep decline in wages in the decades after the 1980 deregulation, trucker income has flatlined for the past 20 years. 

Why Trucking Can’t Deliver The Goods by Harold Meyerson in Prospect. If I recall right from The Box, the regulation of trucking kept Malcolm Mclean from expanding his routes, which led him to the idea of putting containers on barges and sending them by sea to Houston, thus inventing containerization, which changed the world. Wal-Mart, Apple, the decline of American manufacturing, all of this emerged from how containerization accelerated the ability to ship stuff fast and cheap all over the world.

In an editorial shortly after his death, Baltimore Sun stated that “he ranks next to Robert Fulton as the greatest revolutionary in the history of maritime trade.” Forbes Magazine called McLean “one of the few men who changed the world.”

On the morning of McLean’s funeral, container ships around the world blew their whistles in his honor.

Because this change happened in 1980, and it’s a deregulation, I assumed it was a Reagan thing, but no. Jimmy Carter signed it (and Ted Kennedy was involved). President Carter at the time:

This is historic legislation. It will remove 45 years of excessive and inflationary Government restrictions and redtape. It will have a powerful anti-inflationary effect, reducing consumer costs by as much as $8 billion each year. And by ending wasteful practices, it will conserve annually hundreds of millions of gallons of precious fuel. 

It was Carter and Harley Staggers, D-WV, who brought on railway deregulation around the same time. Staggers was ahead of his time on civil rights, and behind the time on other issues:

In 1973, Staggers heard on the radio the John Lennon song “Working Class Hero” — which includes the lines “‘Til you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules” and “But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” — on WGTB and lodged a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The manager of the station, Ken Sleeman, faced a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, but defended his decision to play the song saying, “The People of Washington, DC are sophisticated enough to accept the occasional four-letter word in context, and not become sexually aroused, offended, or upset.” The charges were dropped



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.