Strike threat to US

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - The first strike in 15 years by America's once notorious Teamsters union has got off to a quiet start, writes Rupert Cornwell. But if it drags on into next week, analysts predict the walk-out by some 75,000 truck-drivers and dockers could start to have a serious impact on the economy.

The stoppage began on Wednesday after negotiations between the Teamsters and 22 trucking companies foundered on disagreement on the employment of lower-paid, part- time drivers. The companies insist the move is essential if they are to stay competitive, but the union says it will cost it thousands of jobs.

Although a few instances of violence were reported on picket lines across the country, consumers and the economy at large have suffered little thus far, as manufacturers have switched to non-union freight companies. Moreover, the strike mainly affects components and semi-finished goods, not fresh foods, where shortages would swiftly be noticed.

But the picture could change when shops and businesses restock after the weekend. In a first sign that companies' resolve might be weakening, 18 smaller ones are being allowed to sign 'interim' agreements with the union.