Thousands of truck drivers are organising a strike in a Facebook group called 'Black Smoke Matters' — here's the origin of the provocative name

  • A group of more than 15,000 truck drivers is planning a trucker shutdown.
  • The group is called “Black Smoke Matters,” which is a name that would likely alienate some on the left who usually support workers’ rights.
  • Black Smoke Matters’ president Mike Robbins explained the origins of the group’s name to Business Insider.

A Facebook group of more than 15,000 truck drivers is planning a trucker shutdown. They’re motivated by an unpopular law, safety concerns, and a litany of other frustrations.

Most Americans generally agree that blue-collar workers, including the country’s 1.8 million long-haul truck drivers, deserve job security and safe working conditions. But the name of this labour-rights trucker group, “Black Smoke Matters,” would likely alienate some.

Mike Robbins, a longtime truck driver whose grandfather and father were also truckers, is the president of Black Smoke Matters. He told Business Insider that the name “represents old-school trucking.”

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Thousands of truckers in a Facebook group called ‘Black Smoke Matters’ are planning a one-day nationwide strike this April

In the 1970s and 1980s, when trucking was at its peak in terms of respect and pay, semitrucks often spewed black smoke. Government regulations aimed at protecting the environment then limited the sort of emissions that vehicles produced, cutting down on the ubiquity of black smoke.

Diesel smokeU.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Public DomainBlack smoke coming from a classic semitruck.

The emission itself isn’t crucial to the Black Smoke Matters movement – but Robbins said it represents a larger trend within trucking. Federal laws like the electronic-logging mandate, which came into effect in December 2017, has cut down wages and freedoms for many long-haul truckers.

But most folks outside of trucking would likely recognise the name as an alteration of Black Lives Matter, a global activist movement that began in the United States as a response to police killings of unarmed black Americans. Since Black Lives Matter launched in 2013, movements like “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” were launched as critiques of Black Lives Matter.

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“Part of the reason Black Smoke Matters exists for me is old-school trucking,” Robbins told Business Insider. “Trucking today is just a shadow of that, thanks to government regulation. We feel the government is destroying this industry.”

“And yes, it may have been a play off Black Lives Matter,” he later added.

Black Smoke Matters’ Facebook page only recently garnered more than 10,000 members. For the eight months or so since the Facebook page launched, Robbins said it was a private sounding board for truckers who needed to vent.

“People get on here and don’t feel the need to speak politically correct,” he said. “We’re all cool with it.”

Another hashtag the group is promoting is “#MTGA” (Make Trucking Great Again), in the vein of President Donald Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again” campaign messaging.

Such communications aren’t likely to jibe with the left-wing folks who typically support labour rights, like US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who supports a 70% tax rate on the ultra-wealthy along with uplifting people of colour in the US. But Robbins said the group’s bluntness doesn’t mean the group isn’t strategic – they have been distributing flyers at truck stops around the country and getting the word out on social media.

“We’re known as a rough and rowdy group, but what the public doesn’t realise is that behind the scenes, Black Smoke Matters is very organised,” Robbins said.

Are you a truck driver who plans to strike on April 12? Do you have thoughts on Black Smoke Matters? Email the reporter at [email protected].

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