Issue 50 (8)/ August 2011

Where truckers may spend more on vehicles than their homes

Logistics and art may seem like a very unlikely combination, and so it is, with one exception - the country of Pakistan. There, many trucks are literally moving works of art, painted and decorated with loving care and attention for years and years (see picture below), creating a gallery on wheels across the country's roads and highways.
Where truckers may spend more on vehicles than their homes

The vast majority of trucks and buses there are extensively adornished with mural-like paintings and many other accouterments to add beauty or style to the vehicle - for example, one driver had a chain of hammered steel leaves strung to dangle around the chassis. When the truck is under way, these metal leaves clang together, creating a loud noise that is music to the driver's ears.

The largest 18-wheelers operating in the country generally escape the artistic touch, in part because they are often owned by larger companies not individuals, but visitors say they look absolutely bland by comparison.

The truck decorating culture itself has created an industry in Pakistan of artists skilled in doing the work, where aspiring decorators begin as apprentices and move up to become "masters" years later. The skills applied to the work can include not only painting but metal work and carpentry.

In Karachi alone, a port city of 14 million on the Arabian Sea, more than 50,000 people toil in small, family-run workshops, with each worker often having with a well-defined specialty. Though many decorating jobs share some signs and symbols, the goal is always uniqueness.

It can take 6-10 weeks to fully paint and decorate a truck for the first time. Most truckers will add ornaments or other features or redo part of the paint job each year after that.

"Truckers don't even spend so much money on their own houses," said Durriya Kazi, head of the department of visual studies at the University of Karachi several years ago. "I remember one driver who told me that he put his life and livelihood into the truck. If he didn't honor it with the proper paint job, he would feel he was being ungrateful."

The tradition apparently dates all the way back to ancient traders who moved goods from the coast of Pakistan inland to Central Asia, using heavily decorated camel caravans. Today, the paint jobs often identify different ethnic groups. You can often look at a truck and tell exactly what region it comes from and what ethnic group the driver belongs to.

But the truck tableaus cover the gamut, often mixing the sacred, pop culture and more in a single, flowing design.

Through a local associate, SCDigest was able to interview Naseer Khan, a truck driver at Lahore Dry Port who owns a Bedford Truck. Khan is 39 and he has been a driver for almost 16 years. He bought his truck used for 600,000 rupees (about US $7050.00) some 10 years ago.

Before that, Khan spent 7 years painting trucks but left that job because it did not pay well. So he sold some family land and purchased his truck.

Below is our Q&A with Khan about the truck painting culture in Pakistan.

Q: How much does it costs to get a large truck painted or outfitted this way?

A: I love to decorate my truck and I have spent some good money first when I bought it and then whenever I get some money to spend I spend on decorating it further. It's an ongoing thing - you decorate your truck and then you see some other truck which looks more beautiful then you start planning how you can improve looks of your truck. I want my truck to look super cool.

But, my truck and most of the trucks are old and require regular maintenance, so you can never fulfill your desire to decorate your truck to the level you want.

About the cost, it is difficult to say - it depends on the owner and how much he wants to put in decorating, but usually owners spend something like 100,000- 150,000 rupees [US $ 1200-1800.00] the first time and then 10,000 - 20,000 rupees [US $ 120-240.00] on regular basis for improvement and repair.

Q: Do only individuals owning their own trucks do this, or do logistics companies or other companies do it across a fleet of trucks?

A: Yes, individuals are more interested in decorating the truck because they have a special bond with the truck. As a driver you are mostly on road and spend most of your time in your truck so it is like a second home, and we decorate it like it is our home...

I have spent 7 years doing the paint jobs and decoration work and I have never heard of a logistics company interested in decorating trucks.

Companies are more interested in saving costs then spending money decorating trucks. The other thing is companies usually buy new trucks so they don't need all the decoration or probably they are not interested. But truck owners such as me, we buy used trucks and those do not look good and we need to put some money on it to make it look nice.

Q: What percent of trucks would you say are decorated this way?

A: I think about 80-85 % trucks are decorated. Usually the trucks that are not decorated are from the logistic companies and those are new trucks. It is not just about the trucks - old buses are also decorated same way.

Q: Is the trend growing, declining, staying the same?

A: It has always been like this...Since my childhood this is same. I think it will stay like this.

Q: Does it bother the customers of the trucking companies at all, or they don't care?

A: (Smiling) No it does not bother customers because customers are from Pakistan and they are used to seeing these trucks. I work with different trucking companies and they like nice well decorated trucks, so I guess customers like it as well.

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Teamsters: open borders, trade deals are ruinous for America

For most Americans, the recession has not ended. Wages are falling and millions can't find jobs.

The grim June jobs report showed things aren't getting better. The unemployment rate actually went up, with 14.1 million Americans officially out of work.

The last thing American workers need are trade deals that put more of them out of work and lower their wages. And yet that is what our government is doing not once, but four times.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood went to Mexico last week to sign a deal that opens our borders to Mexican trucks. In reporting the agreement, the press was strangely silent about the 40,000 people killed in Mexican drug wars since 2007. The media made no mention of our widening trade deficit with Mexico since NAFTA was signed in 1992, nor did reporters say anything about the 700,000 jobs lost since then.

Three more job-killing trade deals are in the hopper, and you can bet the news media will swallow whole the phony claims made about them by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups. Congress is now considering trade agreements with Colombia, where trade unionists are routinely murdered; Panama, a well-known tax haven; and South Korea, in the biggest trade deal since NAFTA.

It seems our trade policy is of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.

Upon signing the Mexican truck agreement, LaHood issued a statement: "By opening the door to long-haul trucking between the U.S. and Mexico, America's third-largest trading partner, we will create jobs and opportunity for our people and support economic development in both nations."

I don't think anyone on the planet believes that. Polls show most are skeptical that globalization is helping the economy. The deal with Mexico will flood the U.S. with cheap labor, further eroding our living standards and workers rights. It will undermine border security and endanger motorists. It ignores corruption among Mexican law enforcement, when that law enforcement is exactly what the safety of the program depends on.

Opening the border is simply a surrender to the trucking industry and to multinational corporations it certainly isn't to the United States or to its people. Companies don't care that Mexico can't hold up its end of the bargain. There's no way that Mexico can offer U.S. carriers the same access to its roads that Mexico gets from the U.S. No American trucking company or trucker wants to haul freight to Mexico and risk kidnapping or death.

The Teamsters have fought repeatedly against the unpatriotic, anti-American attempt to undermine our road safety, our security and our economy by opening the border to dangerous trucks. We have fought against trade deals that lower our standard of living, erode our national security and contribute to economic inequality. We will continue to fight because we love our country, even if the corporations don't.

James P. Hoffa, President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.