Taxi workers around the world have been fighting back against the effects of Uber and other ride-sharing services on the taxicab industry. In New York, the city’s 13,000 yellow and green cab drivers, and 50,000 black car drivers, have seen their living standards squeezed in recent years with the addition of more than 80,000 ride sharing cars.
Eight taxi drivers have committed suicide in New York in the last year as a result of financial hardship, which has spurred an increase in driver protests. Most recently, drivers have been fighting against a new tax on every fare collected by yellow cabs in Manhattan. This charge will be another burden on drivers who also face rising housing and living costs like the rest of us. Taxi drivers are demanding that Governor Andrew Cuomo scrap the tax. Instead, they call on him to “tax the rich, not the poor” by closing loopholes in the state tax code for hedge fund managers, and raising taxes on the rich in other ways.
Below, we publish a report from January 2019, written by our comrades in Izquierda Revolucionaria in the Spanish state. The struggle there has reached a higher level with the outbreak of strikes and blockades of highways at the end of January in Madrid and Barcelona. Cab drivers are fighting for tighter regulations on Uber, and already concessions have been won in Barcelona and other cities. However the drivers’ campaign is still working to win concessions in Madrid. The intensification of the struggle in the Spanish state has raised further questions about how to take the struggle forward. Our comrades outline a fighting program that we hope readers will find of interest for the struggle here in New York. The article was originally published in Spanish here.
Taxi drivers go back on strike and occupy the streets • Enough with job insecurity!
By Victor Taibo, Executive Committee of Izquierda Revolucionaria
Solidarity with the struggle of the taxi drivers
Again we are witnessing an uprising in the taxi sector, from below, through direct action and organization, occupying and blocking the streets, and turning to the methods of the working class. For days, taxi drivers in Madrid and Barcelona have remained on strike en masse, demanding guarantees to stop the savage attempts to make their living and working conditions more precarious, as is already happening with the Uber and Cabify workers, who are being exploited unscrupulously by these multinationals. Today, police charged against the taxi drivers protesting in Madrid, causing more than a dozen injured. On the other side, the media have launched a broad campaign of criminalization against this struggle, as they always do when workers confront multinationals and large companies.
This summer, after an aggressive mass strike of the taxi sector, the government established a compromise that became a dead letter, and that in essence presupposed that the advance of the multinationals and “precarization1” of jobs in the sector would continue, at a greater or lesser pace. This is a reality that is becoming generalized in one sector after another, and which is a consequence of the very logic of the capitalist system. Uber and Cabify themselves, before the attempt to impose certain conditions on them, had already threatened to leave Barcelona — a way to generate pressure and to blackmail in order to obtain the backing of different governments, including the Generalitat2, although it seems unlikely that they would really be prepared to abandon that share of the market.
Today, not a doubt remains: Uber and Cabify are not mere platforms, but multinationals that operate based on the same predatory model with which Amazon or Deliveroo accumulate multimillion-dollar profits at the cost of the savage exploitation of workers. The struggle of taxi drivers is part of the struggle of the working class to prevent the process of precarization and collapse of our wages and living conditions from continuing, as is happening with the Amazon workers of San Fernando, Vodafone workers now threatened with an ERE3, or Alcoa workers, who face the closure of their plants.
The model is the same: large multinationals avoid paying taxes, like Amazon, or have their headquarters located in tax havens and utilize labor legislation tailored to their needs, such as Ryanair. In the case of Uber and Cabify, this is achieved through the use of “falsos autónomos”4, forcing their workers to pay their own social security, in conditions of absolute precariousness and 24-hour workdays. In this way, they push the entire sector towards the most absolute precariousness, doing away even with what limited rights might still exist in the taxi sector. Imposing these conditions, those multinationals seek to collapse the market by bankrupting thousands of independent taxi drivers, in order to end up monopolizing the sector in conditions of misery that permit them to obtain a gigantic profit margin. It is these thousands of salaried taxi drivers, as well as some falsos autónomos, and those independent taxi drivers who live in their cab with 24-hour workdays, who have finally stood up.
Precarizing the whole sector for the benefit of a handful of multinationals and large companies
Around these platforms and VTC licenses5, a huge speculative bubble is being generated, as has also happened with taxi licenses for years. These licenses cost only €32 in administrative fees when first issued, but drivers for these platforms can end up paying as much as €60,000 for them in the Community of Madrid, and all for the benefit of a handful of multinationals. This system of licenses, both for taxis and now for VTCs, makes those at the bottom, as always, foot the bill, while a handful of opportunists profit by speculating. In this system, the winners will always be those at the top: platforms like Uber and Cabify as well as the large taxi employers, who use it to precarize the conditions of wage-earning and independent taxi drivers as much as possible, just like those of drivers with VTC licenses. The independent taxi drivers that have purchased their licenses at an exorbitant price themselves know this very well, unable to compete not only with Uber and Cabify but with the large taxi companies who in many cases also operate by hiring falsos autónomos and paying poverty wages for workdays that never end. It is time to put a stop to this situation, guaranteeing decent and equal working conditions for the immense majority of workers and “independent contractors” in the sector.
The taxi is a public service and as such must have decent conditions for its professionals. The struggle to impose limitations on VTCs, which has caused this conflict to erupt anew, can momentarily halt the precarization of the sector and the advance of these platforms, but as we are seeing, and as we saw with the agreement reached in summer, the threat continues to be there. The ratio of 1 VTC for every 30 taxis, recognized by the Supreme Court, is a dead letter, as the Ministry of Development admitted, reporting that in the sector there is already an average ratio in the Spanish State as a whole of 1 VTC for every 9 taxis, and, in fact, in cities like Madrid, of 1 VTC for every 3 taxis. It is easy to understand the indignation of workers in the taxi sector, who see their jobs and their future endangered, but it is necessary to consider how to stop this process of precarization in a unified way and throughout the whole State, as it is a consequence, among other things, of the system of licenses itself.
For a quality public service with decent pay and working conditions!
The mobilization of taxi drivers from below, with proper working-class methods, has put the conflict back in the spotlight and the various governments on the ropes. While there exist conditions of misery for drivers with VTC licenses, falsos autónomos victims of the aforementioned multinationals, taxi drivers and their conditions will be permanently threatened; hence, the importance of incorporating these sectors into the struggle, demanding that they be recognized as workers, with all of their according benefits, and also demanding that these multinational companies pay taxes commensurate with their enormous profits. But it is also necessary to improve the current conditions of the taxi drivers, both employees and those self-employed who are breaking their backs day by day to make ends meet. For this it is necessary to establish a unitary labor framework, or as unitary as possible, where equal rights are enshrined in law and in practice both for employees and for those who work as true independent contractors. There must be a labor framework that establishes a minimum living wage for all workers in the sector and a maximum working day of 40 hours a week, which could progressively be reduced to 35 hours.
Another step would be the establishment of a public company, starting with the main cities where progressive city councils already exist, like Barcelona and Madrid, under which could be brought taxi drivers and other workers in the sector, such as the falsos autónomos of Uber and Cabify among others, where those decent pay and working conditions would be guaranteed. This could be financed by imposing a special tax on these multinationals and the large taxi companies, while inspecting these companies to ensure compliance with the conditions established in that sector’s unified labor framework. This would guarantee a quality public service, and thus both taxi drivers and VTC drivers could have a decent life.