In this issue of China Labor News Translations, we bring to you an extended article which originally appeared in China Newsweek on 19 November. This "Focus on Taxi Drivers” includes two pieces on taxi driver strikes, one Hainan province's Sanya and another one in Chongqing in Sichuan province.
In November and early December, there was an astonishing outbreak of strike activity among taxi drivers throughout China. While this was not the first time taxi drivers have taken direct action in China, these strikes – which can definitely be regarded as a strike wave – has been notable for its scale, the rapidity by which it spread to cities throughout the country, and the relative uniformity of the grievances. Aside from the strikes in these two cities, drivers also took direct action in Guangdong province's Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shantou, and Foshan, Fujian province's Xiamen, Hubei province's Jingzhou and Suizhou, Shanxi province's Zhouzhi, Henan province's Nanyang, Anhui province's Anling, Gansu province's Yongdeng county, and Yunnan province's Dali.
Of particular interest has been the organizing methods employed by the drivers, and their demands for the establishment of taxi driver trade unions, or taxi drivers' associations, to be corporatized into taxi drivers' shareholding companies.
Both the Chongqing and Sanya incidents reveal a troubling pattern of conflict resolution which observers have noted in many industries in China. What is clear from these articles is that taxi drivers were not at all eager to resort to striking, but rather had tried diligently for some months to resolve their grievances through official, legalistic channels. Unfortunately, in both cases the government was completely incapable of responding effectively to the legitimate concerns of the drivers. As has been the case time and again for workers in China, these drivers realized that the only way they could get the authorities to take them seriously was to cause major disruptions.
For such a strike wave to occur in widely disparate places in the country indicates a systemic problem in the taxi business, monopolized by city governments or affiliated companies that work closely with the government. In the case of Sanya described below, the drivers wanted to set up an association. The Chongqing drivers on the other hand worked hard to corporatize themselves into a taxi drivers' shareholding company with taxi drivers as shareholders. But they were continually denied registration by the authorities. To be sure, the system of "independent contractors” which is prevalent in the taxi industry in China has an individualizing effect.
While the ACFTU has called for the establishment of taxi driver unions (without either calling for a change in existing laws or explaining a way around them), it seems that Chinese unions did not want to actively support the activist grassroots, as is particularly clear in the case of the Chongqing drivers. Until the unions can escape the control of corrupt local officials and establish a real basis for the defense of workers' rights, it is quite likely that workers' collective demands will be ignored until collective action breaks out. This point is not lost on many of the drivers: when a taxi driver in Guangzhou who belonged to a union was asked about the organization's ability to help avert the strike he responded: "The union doesn't represent us workers. It represents the Communist Party.”
While in Sanya the government engaged in rather serious repression in arresting dozens of strike leaders, in general the government's response has been rather conciliatory. In several places the government has ordered a reduction in the car rental fees that drivers must pay, which has been one of the major sticking points in each city. Additionally, there have been promises to crack down on unlicensed taxis. But the union is still struggling with how to establish effective representative organizations for the drivers. Until this can happen and rationalized mechanisms for interest expression can be established, it is unlikely that these workers' core grievances will be fully resolved.
There is one interesting point worth noting in these strike incidents. It is often quoted that about 70 percent of the drivers are "peasants workers”, but in the in the case of Chongqing case, except for a few, all 41 drivers who initiated the "association to establish a people's company” were former laid-off state enterprise workers. Perhaps this reflects a situation of state sector workers are more inclined to collective action than "peasant-workers”.
Download the translated article here:
Focus on Taxi Drivers Protecting Their Rights
Or access the original Chinese article here: