On a fog-soaked December morning, near an Interstate 5 offramp on the outskirts of Stockton, about a dozen men huddled in a loose circle. Some wore the traditional long beards and Sikh turbans of their native India. The younger men were mostly clean-shaven and sported brand-name windbreakers. To the north was a truck dealership. To the south, shrouded in the fog, was a dog-food factory.
The men spoke animatedly in Punjabi and then broke up, shuffling around the empty lot, talking on cell phones and killing time. Occasionally, a taller man would call them together again for another meeting.
This is what a wildcat truckers strike looks like in the Stockton Valley.
These were independent, short-haul truckers, mostly recent immigrants from India. Although they own their own trucks and technically are self-employed, these drivers usually contract exclusively with one company and depend on that company for all of their work. In this case, the company is Kach Transportation.
But, for three days in December, none of these drivers hauling for Kach went to work. And the company couldn’t move goods from the area rail yards to the stores and warehouses in the surrounding communities, like Stockton, Sacramento, Modesto, Woodland and points in between.
There were no angry chants or workers marching around with picket signs. No fiery speeches by bullhorn and no press conference. Just a bunch of fed-up truckers not going to work. And yet these men are part of a unique labor tradition dating back a century.
The only real clues linking them to the tradition were a few signs bearing a slogan from a bygone era--“An injury to one is an injury to all”--planted in the wet ground around the perimeter of the lot.
The loads they haul could be just about any dry goods, from laundry detergent to toilet paper to children’s toys. One load, from Stockton to Sacramento for example, might net a driver $120. The truck operators pay for their own insurance, gas and vehicle maintenance. Often, they are still making payments on their rigs.
By and large, they don’t belong to unions.
Or, at least, not the unions you’d expect.
Over the summer, the Kach drivers, and the vast majority of short-haul truckers in the Stockton Valley, recently joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies. The union says it has signed up around 220 of the 350 or so independent truckers working in the area.
Not bad for a union that was considered extinct 10 years ago.