just under $4/gallon nationally -- up over a dollar from last year -- independent truckers especially are starting to feel pain at the pump as operating costs are driven higher and higher. One idea to combat the all-time high fuel prices that's apparently being kicked around inside the trucking community is a protest strike. As we're seeing with a growing number of social movements, the organization of this idea seems to be coming together through online channels like social networks and forums.With diesel prices in the US hovering at
A truckers strike is not without precedent. Following an OPEC oil embargo against the US and other western nations in the 1970s, a ten-day strike by independent truck owners and operators over high fuel costs that was intended to force the government to change policies in order to lower oil price had serious reprocussions. That strike actually prompted violence on a scale that caused the governor of Pennsylvania to activate the National Guard to protect roadways in that state. However, a smaller strike in 1994 of about 75,000 teamsters as 22 trucking companies has a far smaller impact.
The current planned strike is being organized mainly over the Internet via social sites. A MySpace page for the strike has over 1900 friends, for example, while two Facebook groups (here and here) have over 5,000 members each. A Topix thread on the strike has over 4,800 replies, and a dedicated strike forum at TruckerForum -- a site with over a thousand members -- has 1,500 replies.
Unfortunately for protest organizers, who are aiming for May 5th as a potential strike day, as impressive as those numbers are on paper, they're not nearly large enough to effect the nation's shipping industry that much. If 75,000 truckers in 1994 didn't do much, a few thousand in 2008 won't have anyone calling for Congress to intervene.
But that said, in the past year we have begun to see movements that were started online take hold and have a serious impact. A protest organized on Facebook in Columbia a couple of months ago drew as many as 2 million people, and there is some evidence that the eBay protest organized via MySpace and YouTube in February had at least a small effect on the auction site.
What we're seeing over the past few months is the emergence of social networks as incredibly powerful organizational tools. Due to the inherently viral nature of most social networking sites, people are figuring out ways to leverage these networks to organize quickly on a massive scale and potentially effect real social change.