Sanya Taxi Drivers Strike

01:53 Nov 10 2008 Sanya, Hainan Province CHina

From China Labor News Translations:

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”.


The acting mayor of the south China city of Sanya offered an apology to striking taxi drivers on Tuesday, pledging to improve the city's transport industry and create a harmonious environment for licensed drivers.

Wang Yong, acting mayor of Sanya in the southern island province of Hainan, met with representatives of taxi companies and drivers Tuesday afternoon for more than an hour as the strike continued for a second day.

"Lots of issues exist in our transport management, and I apologize for that to the city's taxi drivers," he told them.

He vowed to severely crack down on unlicensed cabs who stole business from the licensed drivers and on the lawbreakers who smashed cabs during the strike on Monday.

He also voiced support for the licensed drivers to set up their own association so as to provide a convenient channel to air grievances.

"We must resolve the major issues put forth by the taxi drivers as soon as possible to safeguard their legitimate rights," he said.

More than 100 cabbies gathered in front of the building of Sanya city government in the morning, and the number of drivers increased to more than 300 at around noon.

The taxi drivers repeated demands for intervention on issues, including high monthly taxi rental fees and unlicensed cabs, and called for the release of 21 people detained by police over involvement in violence during the strike.

The 21 people attacked taxi drivers who would not participate in the strike and smashed 15 cabs, said a police bureau spokesman.

Sanya, a major tourist city, has about 1,050 licensed cabs owned by six companies, taxi drivers said. However, the number of unlicensed cabs is twice the number of licensed taxis.

Striking drivers criticized some companies who ignored a municipal government policy that reduced monthly rental fees by 26 percent from January 1, a move intended to make the cabbies' lives easier.

Chen Zhibang, head of the city's transport bureau, said representatives have been sent to hear drivers' complaints and persuade them back to work.

Chen said more buses had been put into service since the strike began on Monday.

"The issues raised by taxi drivers are actually very common in this industry. Only when the government takes real action can the problems be eradicated," a driver representative surnamed Zeng said after the talks with the government officials.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers in Yongdeng County, in the northwestern Gansu Province, agreed to end their strike after the county government promised to put forward a plan within 10 days to get rid of unlicensed cabs.

The local government had planned to solve the problem of unlicensed cabs within a week, but changed the time frame to 10 days to ensure the job was done properly.

About 700 illegal cabs operated in the county, stealing business from licensed drivers, said a strikers' representative. The county had about 280 licensed cabs. Half of the drivers went on strike on Monday.

"Some of us returned to work on Monday evening after the government promised to take action. The rest resumed service on Tuesday morning," said driver Ma Jiangshan. He was satisfied with the government's attitude in tackling their complaints.

Both strikes, in Sanya and Yongdeng, broke out days after a similar cab strike in China's fourth largest city, Chongqing, last week.
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