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China: Taxi Drivers and Railway Workers on Strike

A new wave of strikes are taking place in China. This time it is not among rural migrant workers working in sweatshops, but among drivers and employees in the urban public transportation sector. It indicates how inflation and soaring costs are affecting city dwellers whose living standards keep depreciating.

Taxi drivers strike in Hangzhou

In Hangzhou, the largest city in Zhejiang Province in eastern China, a taxi drivers strike began on August 1, 2011 and continued for about three days.

Famous current affairs columnist and Weibo micro-blogger, Chen Jieren reported on August 2:

More than 8,000 taxi drivers participated in a strike in Hanzhou.

More than 8,000 taxi drivers participated in a strike in Hanzhou.

 

【杭州出租车大罢工赢得少量权利】8月1日,杭州的士司机因不满燃油费和租金高而大罢工,从上午开始,全市8000多辆的士有超过一半停运并摆满各处街面。罢工到下午,市政府宣布两项措施,一是10月底前调价,二是在调价前由市政府提供临时补助,标准为每笔生意一元钱,但这未能让司机满意,罢工可能复发。

[Hangzhou taxi Drivers’ strike has gained some positive response] On August 1, Hangzhou taxi drivers demonstrated against expensive fuel prices and car rent, more than 8,000 taxis joined the demonstration early in the morning. In the afternoon, the government said they would introduce two measures: 1. Adjusting the taxi fees at the end of October; 2. The government will provide 1 yuan per ride subsidy for the drivers. The drivers may continue the strikes, if they are not satisfied with the new measures.

According to Reuters, the striking drivers were not satisfied with the offer, and continued their protest. Reuters also reported that drivers’ attempts to post comments to Weibo were being blocked or removed, and that local media refused to cover the strike.

Human rights lawyer Zhang Kai explained the reason behind the taxi strike:

杭州出租车司机罢工是必然,上半年出差杭州我就有预知。当时打车很困难,和一个司机了解,他们主要是外地人,除去份子,每月收入不足两千。这还要保证不得病,无意外。杭州房子均价上万,的士司机如祥子,干一辈子都无法安身。

The Hangzhou taxi drivers’ strike is predictable. Earlier this year, when I had a trip in Hangzhou, I found it so difficult to stop a taxi. A driver told me that most of them are not locals and their monthly income is less than RMB 2,000 (USD $250). So you can't afford sick leave or an accident. Property in Hanzhou costs more than RMB 10,000 per square meter, a life time of saving wouldn't buy you an apartment.

Also on Weibo, @hzhouse pointed out that the problem with exploitation of taxi license holding companies has not been solved:

今天早上出租车司机停运,主要诉求是杭州路堵,生意难做。一个班次收入约500块,份子钱上交220块,油费200块左右,一天收入只剩七八十,除掉吃住等花销,所剩无几。本次罢工矛头指“油价高、路堵、补贴低(”,那么份子钱又该如何看待?为什么受伤的总是百姓!

This morning, taxi drivers went on strike. They complained about traffic jams and low incomes. They earn about RMB 500 (USD $80) in one working day, but have to pay RMB 220 to the taxi license holding company and RMB 200 for the fuel. Their net income ends up at around RMB 70-80 (US$12). Once you subtract rent and food, there is nothing left. Most of the media reports talked about expensive fuel prices, traffic jams and low subsidies. What about the money given to the license holding companies? Why are ordinary people always the victims?

The living condition of an ordinary taxi driver family in Hangzhou

A set of photos showing the living condition of an ordinary taxi driver has attracted a lot of attention on Weibo (via @2074609565).

【镜头】杭州出租车司机生存环境:曲长林师傅,东北人,49岁,妻子46岁,儿子23岁,三人来杭后住在湖州街蔡马新村,至今三人合睡一张床。房间加厕所面积10㎡,收入费后1500不定,房租1100,水电另算,用电由房东定价每度1块。司机半开玩笑说:我来之前听说你们杭州是天堂,没想到跟地狱一样

[Camera] The living condition of Hangzhou taxi driver: Quchang Driver Mr. Lam, originally from Dongbei province. 49 years-old and his wife 46. Has a 23-year-old son. The tree of them have lived in Huzhou Caima village since they arrived in Hangzhou. They sleep in one bed. The size of his room, plus toilet is 10 square meters. His monthly net income is about RMB 1500, rent is RMB1100 excluding water and electricity expenses. The driver said jokingly, “People said Hangzhou is a paradise, but what I have experienced is hell.”

On August 3, @zhaxuchu criticized Hangzhou city mayor's stability-comes-first principle in responding to the taxi strike:

【人家没饭吃了,怎么稳定?】因为油价太高,因为赚不到钱,杭州出租车机体停运。杭州市市长邵占维说,要维护绝大多数正常营运出租车司机正当权益,对极少数出租车驾驶员过激行为绝不姑息,发现一起查处一起,切实维护社会稳定大局—-市长啊,稳定的前提是有饭吃,杭州出租车难找到驾驶员,你知道吗?

[There is no stability if people don't have food to eat] As a result of the rise in fuel prices, taxi drivers can't make enough money and have gone on strike. The Hangzhou city mayor Zhao Jianwei said the government has to defend the rights of the majority of taxi drivers to run their business by cracking down on the radical minorities. They would crush them one by one in order to stabilize society — my mayor, the premise of stability is to have enough income for food. Very few people want to become drivers now, do you know?

Railway workers strike in Changsha

Employees of the railway company also held a strike at the Changsha railway station in Hunan province in south-central China on August 2, 2011. The incident is highly sensitive, because the Chinese Communist Party marks a series of railway workers’ strikes in 1922 as an early success of the political movement.

A Changsha-based lawyer, Gan Yuanchun shared the news with a photo:

Sina weibo image from Gan Yuanchun

The lawyer quoted a BBS (online bulletin board) report that there were around 300 railway workers on strike at Changsha railway station. It is unclear what has triggered the strike. A local newspaper, ‘Daily Economic News’ followed the story and said that the strike was triggered by a minor labour dispute over the replacement of several passenger carriage directors at the Zhuzhou Service Division from Guangzhou Railway Corporation. Nevertheless, netizens still noticed the political implications of railway workers in the history of the People's Republic of China. In Gan Yuanchun's discussion thread:

hampan 铁路工人再做一次先锋队?(8月3日 21:17)

@hampan Have the railway workers once again become frontier soldiers? (August 3, 21:17)

非典型医生 我外公,就参加过广州铁路工人大#罢*工。恍如隔世啊~~~(8月3日 21:11)

@1584233735 My grandpa participated in the Guangzhou railway workers’ strike. This is like a playback of history… (August 3 21:11)

浩浩歌爾 回复@Nethuhz:工人们起来了,我们学生也应该上场了~!(8月3日 20:45)

@linhaobest888 reply to @Nethuhz: The workers are taking action, students should be next. (August 3 20:45)
This post is co-authored by Oiwan Lam

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