Taxi Strike in Xianning, Hubei

13:32 Dec 16 2010 Xianning, Hubei Province China

From Shanghai Daily:

A STRIKE by hundreds of taxi drivers in central China's Hubei Province has entered its fifth week with many of them claiming to have been illegally detained.

Several cabbies in Xianning City, who are protesting over a new license policy, said they were detained for several days for allegedly causing social disorder after they took to the streets to voice their anger against a plan to strip them of taxi licenses in 10 years' time, yesterday's Nanfang Daily reported.

Xianning cab regulators said the local government would confiscate all its 456 taxi licenses by 2020 when drivers would have to apply for a new one. By that time, a government-selected company would manage the taxi business and some 200 more cabs would be put on the road.

The plan - meant to produce a "better-regulated and market-oriented cab service" - angered the city's taxi drivers, who stopped work to rally on the streets. The drivers said they had paid at least 300,000 yuan (US$45,464) for a license and the government had no right to take it back when the business was booming.

A driver surnamed Zhou said he was detained for 12 days for leading a crowd singing patriotic songs in front of a government building on December 23.

Meanwhile, another driver surnamed Li was detained for eight days after he took photos of the group singing. Li said at least 16 other petitioners were detained on the same day. A cabbie who declined to give his name said at least 100 drivers were taken away by police before they set off to Wuhan, the provincial capital and Beijing to petition, the newspaper said.

Police in Xianning's Xian'an District confirmed they had detained cab drivers but refused to give details.

Commuters stranded by the strike have lodged online complaints to the government. Currently, about 100 taxis are in service.

The strike is the second large protest by taxi drivers in Hubei. In 2008, some 500 drivers in Suizhou stopped work for almost a week after the government imposed a new license charge. Also that year there were strikes over increased rental fees, high fuel prices and illegal competition in Chongqing Municipality and Hainan and Gansu provinces.

From CLB:

Taxi drivers are on strike on two central Chinese cities protesting new local government policies which, they say, will damage their livelihoods.

In Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, thousands of taxi drivers have been on strike since 10 January protesting at the city government’s decision to abolish the long-established system of six work days, one rest day (“运六歇一”制度). Since 1 January this year, drivers have had to work seven days a week in order to satisfy the government’s demands for more cabs on the street. Zhenghou currently has 10,607 licensed cabs.

Around 30 drivers’ representatives held talks with senior government officials and the police on 8 January to discuss the issue. The parties failed to reach an agreement and the drivers went out on strike the following Monday.

As one driver told the Southern Metropolis Daily, “We are not robots, we deserve proper rest.” In addition, drivers complained that both the current flag fall of six yuan and the meter rate of 1.50 yuan per kilometer were too low, there were too many unlicensed cabs in the city and that the police were not doing enough to crackdown on them. Abolishing the six work days, one rest day system was the last straw, drivers said, adding another 2,000 cabs to the streets each day, increasing congestion and making it even harder for drivers to make a living.

The government is believed to be still talking to the drivers. Meanwhile, around a thousand police have deployed in the city to “maintain traffic order and protect those drivers who do want to work from retribution.”

In the smaller city of Xianning, south of Wuhan, several hundred drivers have been on strike for nearly one month. The strike began on 16 December after the city government announced that cab licenses would be rescinded after ten years, and that the drivers’ 30,000 yuan to 40,000 yuan license fee would not be returned.

The Xianning government is taking a tough stance against the drivers and media reports suggest than nearly one hundred drivers have been detained by the police during the protest. Moreover, the netizen who first alerted the media to the story, a former taxi driver who took part in a similar strike in the city in 2006 has also been detained. See his blog here.

However, as the China Media Project reported, the strikers have elicited a certain amount of sympathy in the official media. Writing in the Beijing Times on 13 January, Qiao Zikun noted that:

The taxi strike represents a kind of competition of interests, and while this method doesn’t necessarily deserve praise, and the demands voiced may not all be entirely reasonable, its mere occurrence reveals the inadequacies, rigidity and clumsiness of local governments’ social policies.

Taxi strikes are now a regular part of life in Chinese cities. In late 2008, there were over a dozen strikes by taxi drivers in cities across the country, most commonly protesting vehicle hire charges, the cost of fuel and competition from unlicensed cabs. For more details see CLB’s research report on the workers’ movement 2007-08.
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