The protests in Shanghai by lorry drivers against rising fuel costs and port fees is a particular nightmare for the Party leadership. Discontent over inflation is a perennial concern for fear it could turn into something more challenging to Party authority. Lorry drivers threaten the tactic of keeping disputes localized and contained. They also have the potential for causing economic as well as political damage. The economic damage is difficult to quantify at this point because of the news blackout that has been imposed but we already hear of delayed shipments out of Baoshan. The disruption will quickly multiply if the Shanghai drivers inspire copycat protests elsewhere, as happened with the foreign-owned car factories where workers struck over pay last summer.
A dispute over rising fuel costs will resonate far beyond a few hundred drivers to the hundreds of thousands of drivers of taxis and farm vehicles who need to buy diesel and have been hit with two price rises this year, and to the broader population suffering from the worst inflation in nearly three years. This is a dispute the authorities can not allow themselves to be seen to lose.