Shanghai port traffic returns as strike dwindles

SHANGHAI Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:36am EDT

Truck drivers fix a container truck at an unfinished road being used by truck drivers to park their container trucks near a port in Shanghai, April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Truck drivers fix a container truck at an unfinished road being used by truck drivers to park their container trucks near a port in Shanghai, April 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Trucks laden with cargo containers on Monday appeared to operate as usual on roads leading to ports in China's coastal commercial hub, Shanghai, where officials sought to defuse lingering anger among truck drivers who went on strike last week over rising costs.

The drivers' strike disrupted shipments at China's busiest port and brought shivers of unrest about rising costs and fees to Shanghai, which has sought to remake itself as a symbol of outward-looking prosperity.

Over the weekend, the Shanghai government cut fees in a bid to defuse anger over high fuel prices among the independent contractors who haul goods to and from the city's string of ports. Many drivers working as company employees on fixed wages did not join the protest.

The strike, which began on Wednesday, was a brief but telling symptom of the pressures facing the Chinese government over inflation, which in March hit 5.4 percent from a year earlier, magnifying the ruling Communist Party's jitters about protests erupting over prices, taxes and fees.

By Monday morning, it appeared that the Shanghai government's push to douse the discontent was working. Roads leading to the city's docks were busy with traffic.

But several drivers said that despite their success in cutting fees, making a decent living from the fiercely competitive trucking sector would remain tough.

"The government's response has been fairly reasonable, but this is largely a problem with the market. With so many drivers out there competition is tough, and it won't be so easy to fix. The strike is just a way to communicate to the government," said Li Wenbing, a 31-year-old truck driver from Henan province in central China, home of many of the aggrieved drivers.

"The government's new regulation won't have much impact on my wages. At least after four days parked here I am well rested."

Large numbers of police officers continued to line streets around the Baoshan port area, and officials had set up a half dozen outdoor stands where drivers could register any complaints.

"The situation has only been resolved to a degree. Frankly, the new rules aren't that much help," said a 26-year-old independent driver from Henan who would not give his name.

The drivers have complained about high operating costs, citing fuel-price increases, low salaries, and irregular fees and fines imposed by authorities. Some said logistics companies were colluding to charge them higher fees.

China said in early April it would raise retail gasoline and diesel prices by 5-5.5 percent to record highs.

The Party leadership is especially jumpy about threats to its control following online calls for "Jasmine Revolution" protests inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world, and has detained dozens of dissidents.

But the Chinese government has also said it wants to channel more wealth to workers and farmers, and narrow an income gap that has fed public ire.

When workers at Japanese-owned vehicle parts suppliers struck in southern China last year, officials encouraged the companies to offer wage rises and other gains.

(Writing by Chris Buckley in BEIJING; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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