Only an Alliance of all Taxi Drivers of all Branches in a Single Union Can Give a Class Leadership to Our Struggle
No Confidence in Bosses’ Politicians
On August 8, the New York City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve two measures regulating the “app-based” companies such as Uber and Lyft that have flooded NYC in the last three years. This has led to a drastic fall in income for drivers of traditional taxis (yellow cabs) and livery/black cars, as well for Uber/Lyft drivers. The new Local Law 149 put a one-year limit on the number of “app-based” cars while the city studies their economic impact. And Local Law 150 instructs the Taxi and Limousine Commission to set a minimum pay level which would amount to $17.22 an hour after expenses for app-based drivers.
These measures have been hailed as the first municipal action in the U.S. to crack down on the largely unregulated Wall Street-backed companies like Uber that seek to monopolize the taxi industry. However, with 100,000+ app-based vehicles already clogging the streets, a temporary cap won’t substantially raise drivers’ incomes. And the “pay floor,” when you subtract taxes, is actually $15, the NY state minimum wage, which is still poverty pay. Moreover, factoring in the cost of purchasing or leasing a new car through these avaricious financial companies, it is clear that many drivers will make far less than the minimum wage.
Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas/Class Struggle International Workers published a leaflet last March, “Taxi Drivers Rebellion,” detailing the emergency conditions in the industry. On the eve of the City Council vote, the TIC distributed a second leaflet (reprinted below) in rallies called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, advocating a guaranteed $25 an hour minimum pay for all taxi drivers, in order to cut across divisions being exploited by the taxi bosses to set one group of drivers against another. At the same time, we emphasized that any real fight against the taxi monopolists requires sharp class struggle against the parties of capital who back them.
This Wednesday, August 8, the NYC City Council will vote on proposals concerning the unbearable situation of taxi drivers facing the flood of “app-based” taxis. The main items call for a temporary cap (for one year) on new vehicle licenses, and an unspecified “price floor for services” of drivers of ride-sharing companies. Even Uber drivers have called for a cap. But these palliatives are far from enough, and will do little to change the economic emergency. Moreover, they could potentially set workers from different sectors of the taxi industry against each other.
To overcome the divisions between drivers of yellow and green taxis, black cars and Uber and Lyft vehicles, we call for:
- $25 per hour guaranteed minimum pay FOR ALL, plus medical insurance from the municipal system.
- Forge a single union of New York taxi drivers capable of carrying out a solid strike of the entire taxi industry .
A week ago, the taxi drivers of Barcelona, Catalonia unleashed a powerful strike that later spread throughout Spain to require the government to enforce a cap on the number of Uber and similar cars. NYC taxi drivers will have to do likewise.
We face powerful enemies. Uber has an estimated market value of $70 billion. It seeks to monopolize the taxi market worldwide. This company has multi-billion-dollar loans from Wall Street sharks like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, and from the Saudi Arabian Investment Authority. It uses its deep pockets to offer trips at rock bottom prices, in the process ruining the livelihood of “traditional” taxi drivers and Uber drivers, from whom they extract a third (30-35%) of the fare. And Uber plays dirty, launching a wave of ads on social media implicitly accusing traditional taxi drivers of racism, when the vast majority are immigrants.
Uber can pick up more passengers due to the fact that it has an average of 20 drivers per passenger. Thus, it attracts drivers with the false promise of getting more rides. But 42% of the time their cars are tooling around Manhattan without passengers. Thanks to the leakage of drivers to Uber and Lyft, the value of the medallions of yellow taxis has fallen drastically to the point that they are not even worth a sixth of their value of a couple of years ago, and drivers who bought them are sinking in debt. On top of this, six of our brother taxi drivers have committed suicide.
Reliance on bourgeois politicians only leads to defeat. They themselves have interests in the industry – like former Republican mayor Bloomberg, but also liberal Democrats who have ties with Uber – and they are the ones who passed the laws that have profited these companies. That is why we need to provide a class-struggle leadership to the struggle independent of Democrats, Republicans and all political parties of the bosses.
To win we have to fight Lyft and Uber from within. The call for a minimum pay of $25 per hour and free health insurance for all such as that of public employees could have enormous appeal for their drivers. We must also call on other unions to support us, especially the subway and bus workers of the powerful TWU Local 100. With their active solidarity we can bring this center of world high finance to a stand-still.
Class Struggle International Workers also fight for the union control of the dispatchers in the bases and union control of the hiring of drivers and other workers. We fight for the abolition of the hated Taxi and Limousine Commission, and with that the cancellation of all the abusive fines on drivers. And we advocate the formation of a class-struggle workers party.
To begin with, we propose a combative march in the downtown area and Wall Street on a Monday morning together with other unions to produce a colossal traffic jam.