Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy

Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy

Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy

Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy


Trucking Country is a social history of long-haul trucking that explores the contentious politics of free-market capitalism in post-World War II America. Shane Hamilton paints an eye-opening portrait of the rural highways of the American heartland, and in doing so explains why working-class populist voters are drawn to conservative politicians who seemingly don't represent their financial interests.

Hamilton challenges the popular notion of "red state" conservatism as a devil's bargain between culturally conservative rural workers and economically conservative demagogues in the Republican Party. The roots of rural conservatism, Hamilton demonstrates, took hold long before the culture wars and free-market fanaticism of the 1990s. As Hamilton shows, truckers helped build an economic order that brought low-priced consumer goods to a greater number of Americans. They piloted the big rigs that linked America's factory farms and agribusiness food processors to suburban supermarkets across the country.

Trucking Country is the gripping account of truckers whose support of post-New Deal free enterprise was so virulent that it sparked violent highway blockades in the 1970s. It's the story of "bandit" drivers who inspired country songwriters and Hollywood filmmakers to celebrate the "last American cowboy," and of ordinary blue-collar workers who helped make possible the deregulatory policies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and set the stage for Wal-Mart to become America's most powerful corporation in today's low-price, low-wage economy.


Armed with bricks, knives, and shotguns, angry bands of truck drivers roamed the nation's highways in the summer of 1979, shattering windshields and slashing fellow truckers' tires. Governors of nine states summoned National Guard troops as escalating violence caused one death and dozens of injuries. Though most remained peaceful, as many as 75,000 truckers blockaded interstates, encircled fuel pumps, parked their rigs at home, or otherwise tried to shut down the nation's highway transportation system. Many refused to haul milk, meat, fruit, and vegetables, provoking panic buying sprees in suburban supermarkets. Midwestern meatpacking factories laid off workers and produce rotted in California fields. the protest ostensibly erupted in response to rapidly rising fuel prices in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. But for Mike Parkhurst, selfproclaimed instigator of the shutdown and editor of Overdrive magazine (“Voice of the American Trucker”), much more than the cost of diesel fuel was at stake. the tens of thousands of truckers who joined his Independent Truckers Association, Parkhurst declared, were angered not by a global energy crisis but by a crisis of U.S. capitalism.

“If the mood of America is for a rebirth of free enterprise,” Parkhurst had informed Congress three years before the shutdowns, “there is no nobler cause than that of the independent trucker.” Beholden neither to union leaders nor to corporate employers, the independent truck driver was celebrated in popular culture as the last American cowboy. But the truck driver was not in fact the king of the open road, according to Parkhurst. Government regulations in place since the early years of the New Deal discouraged competition in the freight trucking industry, ensnaring the truck-driving man in the grip of federal bureaucrats and the Teamsters Union. Consigned to hauling “unregulated” commodities—particularly farm and food products—that brought low returns for sweated labor, the independent trucker was locked out of the more lucrative regulated freight market. in the context of rising fuel prices, the fact that regulated trucking firms dominated general freight trucking put a squeeze on the hard-working trucker who refused to give part of his paycheck to the Teamsters. “Are the independent truckers to remain forever hostages [to] Teamster domination and apathetic lawmakers?” Parkhurst demanded of a congressional committee in late 1979. “Is this system [of trucking regulation] truly serving the cause of freedom so many soldiers have died for in so many wars?”

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