Photo Essay: Autonomous Trucker Strike in Russia

Note from the Russian Reader: The nationwide strike by Russian truckers officially wrapped up on March 1, but Petersburg drivers have continued to maintain their makeshift protest camp outside the MEGA Dybenko shopping center [in the city’s far southeast]. They have declared their campaign against the new Plato mileage tolls system “indefinite.”

Nearly all of the drivers who have driven their trucks to MEGA Dybenko are individual entrepreneurs. After the innovations wrought by the Rotenbergs [please visit the Russian Reader for more on this history, of which Antidote has reprinted only a fraction. —ed.], business has become unprofitable for the truckers. Why have those who work for themselves decided to go on protesting instead of hauling freight? Olga Rodionova put together the following portfolio of photographs of truckers and their statements for paperpaper.ru.

I’m Very Tired of the Sense of Insecurity”: How the Truckers’ Protest Has Gone Indefinite
Olga Rodionova
paperpaper.ru
3 March 2016

Dmitry, 42, individual entrepreneur. Has been hauling freight since 1997. The past five years has been hauling containers around the city, but sometimes takes loads to Karelia. Married with a 16-year-old daughter.

Dmitry, 42, individual entrepreneur. Has been hauling freight since 1997. The past five years has been hauling containers around the city, but sometimes takes loads to Karelia. Married with a 16-year-old daughter.

Have you seen the roads in this country? I have been paying taxes for many years, the roads have not got better, but now I have to pay even more? One wheel costs me 20,000 rubles [approx. 250 euros]. Have you seen how many wheels I have on my truck? If I pop a tire in a pothole, who can I blame? Nobody! No one has ever got any compensation from the highway services or the government for breakdowns caused by the poor state of the roads. We just pay and pay. I have sometimes left at five in the morning to avoid traffic jams. Once I picked up the load, got it unloaded, and then returned the container, it was already eleven in the evening. Sometimes there is no point going back, and I’m away from home for three days at a time. Many of our guys say there is no point in striking, that nothing will change, but I’m very tired of the sense of insecurity in all parts of life. It’s important to me to be here.”

Arkady, 54. Owns his own truck. Has worked in heavy freight haulage since 1983. Is a teetotaler. Has driven round the entire country: the farthest he has ever driven was Blagoveshchensk. Hauled “Cargo 200” loads during the war in Afghanistan.

Arkady, 54. Owns his own truck. Has worked in heavy freight haulage since 1983. Is a teetotaler. Has driven round the entire country: the farthest he has ever driven was Blagoveshchensk. Hauled “Cargo 200” loads during the war in Afghanistan.

Where are the ruts deepest on multi-lane highways? In the left lanes! But we are obliged to drive in the right lanes. The roads in Russia are bad, because funds for road construction are embezzled and roads are not built to technical specs. But they put the blame on us, saying the trucks are to blame for everything. [Answers his telephone.] Hello. Yeah, we are doing a bit of striking. You come with Dima. He can climb around on the rigs.”

Vadim, 45. Owns his own truck, a 2000 Volvo. Previously drove a KamAZ. After his house was destroyed by fire, rebuilt it with his own hands. Married with two daughters.

Vadim, 45. Owns his own truck, a 2000 Volvo. Previously drove a KamAZ. After his house was destroyed by fire, rebuilt it with his own hands. Married with two daughters.

Plato has only one office in Petersburg where I can get a mileage recorder installed, but they don’t have them in stock! Meaning I couldn’t use Plato even if I wanted to. The mileage recorders were doled out to the major companies, while we, the midsize companies and individual entrepreneurs, are being squeezed out. To be able to get onto the road and work without paying a fine, I have to travel hell knows where to a computer terminal on Fermskoye Highway [in the far northwest of the city] and waste time and money. But there is no guarantee the terminal won’t freeze or just won’t be working. There is no point in talking with the people who work there: they are clerks who don’t decide anything. It’s like trying to agree with a highway patrol inspector about changing the traffic rules.”

Valery, 49, individual entrepreneur. Has driven his own MAN truck since 2008. Has been driving since 1987. Got behind the wheel in the army, then worked in the motor pool of a port. Did his army service in Poland, and in 1988 worked as a driver near Chernobyl. Married with two grown children and a 4-year-old granddaughter.

Valery, 49, individual entrepreneur. Has driven his own MAN truck since 2008. Has been driving since 1987. Got behind the wheel in the army, then worked in the motor pool of a port. Did his army service in Poland, and in 1988 worked as a driver near Chernobyl. Married with two grown children and a 4-year-old granddaughter.

Cargo haulage rates have not changed for seven or eight years. During that time, only the price of fuel and taxes have gone up. If you work it out, I pay threefold. First, I pay all my taxes. Then, due to them, I end up with less and less money. Finally, I pay again as a consumer at the stores: everything has become more expensive. The Plato system is not the whole matter here. They are just muscling out small business. Before, when there was no Plato, we never gave a it a second’s thought. We drove and drove. There was work, and thank God. I am fifty years old. Who is going to hire me? It is a long way to retirement, and I do not want to sit on my butt working as a watchman.”

Dmitry, 30. Works with an individual entrepreneur as a crew member. Has driven since he was 18. Got his semi-trailer license at 21 and has been driving big rigs ever since. Married with two children.

Dmitry, 30. Works with an individual entrepreneur as a crew member. Has driven since he was 18. Got his semi-trailer license at 21 and has been driving big rigs ever since. Married with two children.

Before the crisis of 2007, I had three trucks. I had to sell all of them to pay the mortgage: I was afraid of winding up homeless. I myself am from Ufa. I came here with a load and stayed to support the protest. The wife chews me out, of course, saying I should come home already. But if everyone thinks it doesn’t concern them, then nothing is going to change.”

Vladimir, 49. Has lived and worked in Petersburg since 1997. After his wife’s death, has had to raise his 5-year-old daughter alone. Used to work a three-days-on, three-days-off schedule, driving garbage to a penal colony for recycling. But with a young child to raise, had to change his schedule and in recent years has done intracity freight hauls.

Vladimir, 49. Has lived and worked in Petersburg since 1997. After his wife’s death, has had to raise his 5-year-old daughter alone. Used to work a three-days-on, three-days-off schedule, driving garbage to a penal colony for recycling. But with a young child to raise, had to change his schedule and in recent years has done intracity freight hauls.

I don’t expect anything good to happen. I would be thankful if they wouldn’t prevent me from working. The less the government worries about me, the better it is for me. It’s scary, of course. I’m 49. Where am I going to find a job?”

Alexander, 45, individual entrepreneur, owns his own truck. Moved to Petersburg from the Urals in 2013. Married. Has raised six children, four of them his own and two adopted.

Alexander, 45, individual entrepreneur, owns his own truck. Moved to Petersburg from the Urals in 2013. Married. Has raised six children, four of them his own and two adopted.

I have an illegal fine against me in the database. I proved in court the fine was illegal, but it is still listed there. The highway patrol tried to keep me from getting here to the camp. I only broke through thanks to a truck driver who helped out. I got him up on the radio, and he covered me from the highway patrol. I have been behind the wheel my whole life. I was even born in a car, in my dad’s Pobeda. I pay taxes and duties. I don’t work under the table. I just want to work in peace.”

Vladimir, 32, individual entrepreneur. Has worked as a heavy-duty freight driver for 10 years, the last three on his own rig. Married with child.

Vladimir, 32, individual entrepreneur. Has worked as a heavy-duty freight driver for 10 years, the last three on his own rig. Married with child.

I was involved in the first protest, too. I met some of the guys there, and some of them here. What do I want? The other guys have said it already. If things don’t work out, I will close my individual enterprise and register for unemployment. They have put so many obstacles in our way we cannot get out on the highway at all. There are no mileage recorders in stock, the Plato computer terminal doesn’t work, and if a trip isn’t registered on Plato, the fine is higher than the money you would make on the load. It is just a legal means of driving us from the market, you see? It’s not even a matter of extortion. We simply cannot work.”

Oleg, 37. Has lived in Petersburg since 2001. Used to drive himself, but around 10 years ago,, registered an individual enterprise and hired a driver to run his rig. Married with two children. Was among those detained by police on the first day of the protest.

Oleg, 37. Has lived in Petersburg since 2001. Used to drive himself, but around 10 years ago,, registered an individual enterprise and hired a driver to run his rig. Married with two children. Was among those detained by police on the first day of the protest.

You know, my lawyer told me not to wag my tongue here especially.”

Sergei, 48. Drives a rented truck and works for a limited liability company founded by his wife. Has worked as a driver since 1991. The occupation runs in the family: his stepfather was a driver, and his uncle, a long-haul trucker. Mainly works for three regular clients, hauling furniture, household goods, and construction mixes. Worked for a long time with Ice Theater Saint Petersburg, traveling half the country with the company.

Sergei, 48. Drives a rented truck and works for a limited liability company founded by his wife. Has worked as a driver since 1991. The occupation runs in the family: his stepfather was a driver, and his uncle, a long-haul trucker. Mainly works for three regular clients, hauling furniture, household goods, and construction mixes. Worked for a long time with Ice Theater Saint Petersburg, traveling half the country with the company.

Plato is not the end; it is only the beginning. People say we should raise rates or let the customers pay the tolls. But fuel has again gone up, and spare parts for trucks have gotten a lot more expensive. As a consumer, I suffer from this, too. The wife chews me out, of course. We have no money, the tank is empty. But as a man, I would feel ashamed towards the other guys, so that is why I am parked here. Or rather, that is why I live here. The wife says I should just live here then.”

Translated by the Russian Reader.

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