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China: Taxi Driver Strike, Union and Street Democracy

Taxi drivers from around the country have been in strike for a month. The first protest appeared in Chongqin in November 3, then it spread to Hainan, Gansu, Yunnan, Shandong, Qingdao, Jinan, Fujian, Shantou, Wubei, Shaanxi and etc.

Tomorrow (1 of December), it is likely that Guangzhou will have another Taxi driver strike, and a campaign letter has been circulating around. Beifeng scanned the letter and put it up on his blog; chong posted a backup copy at inmediahk.net:

Letter calling for strike

倡議書

全廣州市出租車駕駛員朋友們:

受世界金融風暴影響,廣州出租行業面臨巨大的生存考驗,近段時間出租車司機叫苦連天。現在市面上存在很多異地出租和私家小汽車同我們正規出租車争食的現象,廣州市政府和交委管理無力,不能給我們一個良好的營運環境。公司承包費用太貴,我們身上的擔子太重了,重加上各方面對我們的出租車的欺壓,違章還要停場,這些種種,把我們的司機朋友都快壓跨了。所以,現在倡議全市出租車司機朋友在2008年12月1日上午8點30分到廣園路廣州市交委和東風路廣州市政府聚集,向交委和市委提出我們的要求,希望能得到滿意的答覆。希望各位司機朋友積極參與,為我們這個行業的發展,也為了你個人的利益。

不參加聚集的司機朋友,我也希望你在12月日不要開車上路營運,因為我們聚集的司機可能有過激行為,會給你帶來不必要損失。

倡議人:
2008年11月27日
(希望收到傳單的司機朋友互相知照,掏幾塊錢複印幾份,再分發出去,致謝!)

Campaign Letter

To all taxi driver friends in Guangzhou city:

Affected by the global financial crisis, the taxi industry in Guangzhou is going through a survival crisis. Recently taxi drivers have been suffering because of the vicious competition from private cabs from other provinces. However, the Guangzhou city government and the Transportation committee fail to control the situation and improve our business environment. The contract fee from taxi company is too high, our burden is too heavy. We are oppressed by many regulation, any violation would lead to suspension of our driving license. All these together have make our Taxi driver friends suffocated. Therefore, now we advocate Taxi driver friends to visit the Guangzhou city transportation committee at Guangyuen Road and Guangzhou city government at Dongfeng Road on 1 of December at 8:30am. We will put forward our demand to the government and committee and expect a satisfactory response. Wish all of our Taxi driver friends will participate for the sake of Taxi business and for the sake of our own interest.

If you decide not to join the action, I wish you not to drive the cab on that day because some of the drivers may have radical action and may cause you damage.

Campaigner:
(name covered)
27 of Nov, 2008
(For those who have received this pamphlet, please tell your Taxi driver friends. Please donate a few dollars for photocopying and distribute it around. Thank you!)

Timeline for the nationwide Taxi driver strikes

Early in Nov 23, there was a confrontation between a Taxi and a private vehicle in Guangzhou, which leaded to a temporary blocking of a major express road by more than a hundred Taxis. This episode was connected to the nation-wide taxi drivers strike. Xin Lijian draws a simple timeline of the strikes in November:

11月3日 重庆市出租车司机举行全城大罢工  
11月8日 湖北荆州数百出租车因加气难停运  
11月10日 三亚出租车因租金过高等问题罢运  
11月10日 甘肃永登上百辆出租集体罢运  
11月19日 重庆永川出租车停运  
11月20日 广东汕头出租车停运  
11月24日 陕西周至县100多辆出租车停运

Nov 3 – Chongqing city Taxi driver strike
Nov 8 – Wubei Jinzhou: a few hundred Taxi strike because of the long line in refilling gas
Nov 10 – Sanya taxi driver strike against the high rent
Nov 10 – Gansu Yongdeng: more than a hundred taxi driver strike
Nov 19 – Chongqing Yongchuan Taxi strike
Nov 20 – Guangdong Shantou Taxi strike
Nov 24 – Shaanxi Zhouzhi province more than 100 taxi strike

Taxi driver union needed

The blogger also points out that the fundamental problem is due to the middle rank exploitation by the Taxi company:

中国的出租车行业的准入机制早已为这一系列的事情埋下了隐患。出租车本身可以做为私人经营的行业,通过行政审批的过程,最后变成出租车公司来“代理出租车经营业务”,这样就为公司剥削司机提供了先天条件。而这一衍生的“出租车公司”,一直拥着垄断利润的最高层;而出租车司机俨然成为这个垄断利益链的最底层。出租车司机除要交纳一定的公司费用之外,还要承担市场的风险,如油价、客源、交通处罚、车辆损耗等。还有个人的基本保障问题,合法权益问题。这个问题长期以来存在的矛盾,最终得到集体性的暴发,也是意料之中的事情。

The Taxi industry has some internal problems that cause the series of strikes. In theory, Taxi can be an individual business by getting a license. However, the taxi companies have turned into an agent on Taxi business. Such arrangement gives the company the power to exploit the drivers. The “Taxi company” has occupied the top rank in the business and has a monopolized status on profit making; while the Taxi drivers are in the lowest rank under the existing profit chain. Apart from giving rental fee to the company, they have to take the market risk, such as oil price, competition, maintenance fee, fines, etc. There are also conflicts over the taxi driver's basic protection and rights, all these problems have been there for long and the collective outburst is not unexpected.

In order to deal with the problem the All China Federation of Trade Unions suggested Taxi drivers to organize union to negotiate with Taxi company. However lakeside guest house points out that an effective union should be directly elected by Taxi drivers, or else the conflicts cannot be solved:

如果我们想切实地保障工人们的权益,那么,最有效的办法是支持工人们通过民主选举,建立属于自己的、拥有公信力的自治组织,如此,工人们与政府、企业之间才有可能进行更为平等、直接、尖锐的谈判、交涉,并达到最后的妥协,从而以和平的方式解决相应的问题。

If we really want to protect the rights of labour, the most effective way is to support democratic election of labour representative and let them have autonomy in negotiation. Only by doing this, there will be more equal relation among worker, government and company in negotiation and making peaceful consensus.

Street Democracy

Collective negotiation is of course a form of democratic practice, however, Beifeng quotes from a Singapore newspapers which pointed out that the Taxi driver strike as a form of street democracy should also be recognized:

如何面对群体性事件频繁发生的状况,特别是面对以往贴了负面标签的“街头民主”行动,政府需要有适应事件与学习处理的过程。《联合早报》的评论认为:“从政府层面而言,如何摆脱对街头民主的固有观念,鼓励和帮助公民社会的发展,将是一个新的课题,也是一个必经的政治转型过程。”评论乐观地估计:“这次出租车罢工事件以及政府的处理方法可以说是一个转折点。它表明街头民主在中国也可以是一种民意表达的渠道,同样可以通过对话和协商的形式得到和平解决。”

How should we look at the series of collective action, especially against the background of negative labeling of street democracy in China? It is probably a process for the government to learn to deal with this new situation. The commentary in Zaobao states that “from the government standpoint, they have to learn how to change their concept of street democracy and encourage the development of civil society with a new attitude. This is a necessary process in political transformation as well”. The commentary is rather optimistic: “The Taxi driver strike and the government's attitude towards the action is a turning point. It shows that street democracy can be a channel to express public opinion, it can be a form of dialogue and negotiation for solving the issue peacefully.”

2 comments

  • chang

    Even my father, an illiterate Chinese peasant, told me that the biggest problem in China is that there is no democracy.

  • […] I had heard of a massive taxi driver strike in China a few weeks back, and as a former SF cabbie (3 years) I was of course very interested. I only wish my fellow hacks could write so well. […]

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