Taxi Strike in Xining

13:38 Jun 13 2009 xining qinghai china

From CLB:

Disturbing news of how a taxi strike was handled in Xining - involving the arrest of eleven people, which brought out the proliferation of outdated rhetoric reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution - falls into sharp contrast with the way many taxi strikes were dealt with in more progressive ways at the end of last year.

In late October and November of 2008, strikes by disgruntled taxi drivers spread across China like wildfire. Chinese taxi drivers - who often have to pay exorbitantly high rates to monopolistic taxi companies while also having to deal with high gas prices and unwelcome competition from illegal “black cabs” - were encouraged by the relatively successful outcomes of many of the taxi strikes in other cities.

Perhaps no city better epitomized the new, more conciliatory approach than Chongqing. On 3 November 2008, taxi drivers went on strike in Chongqing, citing the excessive amount of money in management fees they paid to the taxi company, the difficulty in filling up their tanks, and the proliferation of “black cabs” as their many grievances. On 6 November, in a high profile public event covered widely by print and TV media, Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai met with over 40 of the taxi driver representatives to engage in dialogue. Bo, often seen as a rising political star, led the government to address many of the taxi drivers’ underlying demands: including lowering management fees, increasing the ease of filling up their gas tanks, and cracking down on illegal “black cabs”. The government also took responsibility, criticizing itself and its agencies for enabling such a situation to occur. Meanwhile, the way in which the Chongqing government handled the strikes was generally seen as constructive, transparent, and accommodating. Many in the media and on the Internet debated whether the more progressive response was due to the implementation of a new, enlightened model of dealing with strikes and other “mass incidents”, or, whether faced with an increasingly assertive and critical blogosphere, the response represented a new form of astute media control and the perfection of Western-style political “spin”.

Regardless, the recent handling of a taxi strike in Xining points to a throwback to the days of overt suppression, and calls into question whether the Internet can serve as a tool for advancing legitimate economic grievances. According to Xining Evening Post, on 25 June the Xining PSB called a press conference to announce that they had arrested 11 criminals who “organized a plot, agitated people to cause trouble, instigated people to petition, and had maliciously caused a ruckus”.

The Xining Eventing Post also reported (through my rough translation):

“On 13 June, our city (Xining) experienced a partial taxi strike event. The city’s public security apparatus effectively kept on guard and struck hard against all sorts of illegal criminal activities that disturbed the normal operations of taxi services, fully ensured taxi safety, and maintained scheduled drivers’ legal rights and interests. According to statistics, in the process of handling the strike, the city’s public security apparatus detained 50 people who had engaged in illegal activities such as taking the opportunity to cause a disturbance, agitating people to cause trouble, threatening and intimidating, and blocking traffic. Nineteen of these people were administratively detained, and the others were given a corresponding punishment.

“As the partial taxi strike was gradually put down, the public security apparatus continues to beef up and deepen its work against the behind-the-scenes manipulators, and has recently resolutely exposed the network. One after another the (public security apparatus) has arrested 11 criminals who organized the plot, agitated people to cause trouble, instigated people to petition, and had maliciously caused a ruckus. Punishment will be carried out in accordance with the PRC Law on Governing Offences Against Public Order and the PRC Regulations on Letters and Visits. A Mr. Yan was administratively detained for offences stemming from June 13 in which he incited many other taxi drivers to participate in the striking and blocking public traffic; Mr. Ma and Mr. Fan were administratively detained for organized the writing and handing out of inciting pamphlets; Mr. Tan and Mr. Wang were administratively detained for inciting others to petition and cause trouble, and disturbing public order; Mr Li, Mr. La, Mr. Wang, Mr. Zhang were administratively detained for blocking taxis and intimidating and inciting drivers to strike; Mr. Ding was administratively detained for using the Internet chat tool QQ to maliciously cause a ruckus and spread inciting speech; Mr. Jiang was detained for using the Internet to announce information inciting people to strike and petition, and according to the principle of dealing with people according to their place of jurisdiction, in accordance with the law (criminals) will be transferred to the public security apparatus of their household registration”.

Xining’s response is notable for various reasons: first, it seemingly pays no attention to the grievances of the taxi drivers; second, it consistently emphasizes the theme of strikers inciting (煽动) others to do things, and generally has the tone of uncovering a sinister conspiratorial plot, using such words as the behind-the-scenes manipulator (幕后操纵人员); third, the government went after people who had used the Internet to get out their message, and to presumably drum up support.

Although Xining’s out-dated handling of these strikes is in contrast to the more recent approach epitomized in Chongqing, it is still too early to tell whether Xining or Chongqing will be seen as the model to forward going forward. Ideally, taxi drivers need a democratically elected union that can forcefully advocate for their collective interests, and thus provide for a long-term solution. Barring that, at least having a government that is willing to calmly listen to the legitimate interests of the taxi drivers’ interests would be the next best thing.


More than 5 000 taxi drivers Xining, a city in the western province of Qinghai, went on strike during the night of Saturday the 13th of June over new licensing regulations.

This was followed the next day with a sit-in protest in front of the municipal government headquarters attended by several hundred people, who dispersed at 3pm when officials promised to address the issue. However, although the number of strikers apparently halved on Sunday, protests have continued, with a second sit-in on Monday of a similar size to the first.

As of Tuesday the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that more than 150 taxis were still on strike, while taxis in neighbouring Ping’an County joined the strike. Others had resumed service but only after removing lights and covering license plates, and many carried a police officer on board, apparently in case of attacks by those who remained on strike.

The drivers’ anger was triggered by a report in the local Xihai Metropolis News which Friday reported a new regulation as saying that the provincial government would cut their license periods from 12 years to eight. This would mean most of their licenses would expire now or in a year and "After eight years, the drivers' operating rights in Xining will be taken back to the taxi companies and redistributed."

Xining has 5,110 taxis managed by five firms but 90% are privately owned. Drivers currently pay these firms a fee of 600 yuan (US $87) per month, but were reported to fear that with the new regulation they would have to pay high rental fees to the taxi companies if they wanted to continue operating.

"Who will have the cab operating rights in eight years or 12 years, drivers or the taxi companies?" One cab driver was quoted as saying in anger.

"Most drivers are peasants or laid-off workers," said a 30-something woman driver who declined to be identified.

"We spent 150,000 yuan on the license and at least 50,000 yuan on the car, but make 1,000 yuan a month at most. When the license expires, it would mean most of our money was spent for nothing."

Deputy county chief Ma Yuxiang, however, said the government never charged drivers for a license. "It could be under-the-table deals reached between new and old taxi drivers," he said.

Such "under-the-table deals" were common in the county, as most taxi drivers Xinhua interviewed complained about the high cost of licenses.

Yuan Fuyu, director in the transportation department of the provincial communication administration, Monday called the report "incorrect and misleading." He said the shorter period would only apply to new licenses, and that existing drivers would have unspecified advantages in renewing their licenses.

But some people interviewed by Xinhua, including a few staff members from local governments in Qinghai, agreed that the policy was ambiguous and might be hard to understand. The newspaper's deputy chief editor Li Jun said the government was shifting the responsibility to the media. "The government is trying to make us a scapegoat for its improper policies," Li told Xinhua.

There was no indication that the policy would be changed. Local taxi drivers were being asked to sign a guarantee to stop striking and return to work. Those who don't agree face losing their operation rights, one driver said.

Most striking drivers are demanding "permanent operating rights", or a renewal of their licenses to at least 30 years.

Their demand, however, was interpreted as an attempt to "privatize" the industry, which was not possible at least for the time being, an official in charge of transportation said.

"There's no such practice in China and it's not possible for Qinghai to take the lead," said Yuan, while Ma called it: “completely out of the question," though "there might be a chance to renew their licenses for a few years.”

Police detained 35 people who had "taken the chance to make trouble," said Huang Shujiang, vice head of the Xining public security bureau.

On the heels of the strike in Xining, there were taxi drivers' protests in other parts of Qinghai.

According to local officials, 228 taxis went on strike Monday afternoon in the Datong Hui and Tujia Autonomous County, which is some 65 km from Xining. The local government assured them in an open letter that no new measures were being taken and asked them to return to the road.

China has seen a wave of strikes by taxi drivers, with the latest action following strikes across the country late last year when drivers in cities including Guangzhou, Hainan, Chongqing and Sanya demanded changes to high operating fees, costly traffic fines and other working conditions.

Meanwhile on Monday in an unconnected protest, furniture makers in Nankang in the eastern province of Jiangxi blocked traffic and overturned police cars in a protest against a new tax they claim places too heavy a burden on their businesses.
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