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NY cab drivers strike

By Lyn Neeley
New York

New York streets were eerily empty May 13, as Manhattan's 12,200 yellow-cab drivers went out on a 24-hour strike. The strike was to protest 27 new rules Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is trying to impose on the cab drivers.

Giuliani and the Taxi and Limousine Commission want new regulations that would, among other things, quadruple liability-insurance costs, increase fines from $350 to $1000 for violations such as "reckless driving," increase fines from $25 to $150 for "drivers who are discourteous to passengers or smoke while driving," increase new drivers' six-month probation to a year, and force new drivers to submit to drug and alcohol testing.

"City officials were stunned by the success of [the] strike," the May 16 New York Times reported.

The vast majority of cab drivers are immigrants. They hail from 85 different countries. Many are highly educated. Behind the wheel, they are subjected to racist harassment from police and government officials, and are the butt of "jokes" based on anti-immigrant racist stereotypes.

Giuliani's response to the strike was: "This is a strike and a demonstration for the purpose of being able to drive recklessly and have nothing done about it. This is a theater of the absurd."

Sobhy El Sherif, an Egyptian immigrant, has been a New York cab driver for over eight years. He told Workers World: "Giuliani's new rules show how racist he is. He wants us to make even less money than we make now or put us out of business."

El Sherif and his partner own their cab-but must pay $1,100 a week to lease a medallion from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. To earn money above the cost of the medallion, gas, mechanical expenses and tickets they must each drive 12 hours a day, seven days a week

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance initiated the strike. As thousands of leaflets were distributed, the call to stop work struck an immediate chord among the drivers.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission takes in some $2 million per month in fines from drivers, most of whom have no health benefits. Racist police harass these immigrant workers, issuing repeated tickets, often for fabricated violations.

Giuliani's bid to increase fines and repression would further oppress the drivers, who lose a day's pay each time they have to go to court to answer a ticket.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has called for another 24-hour strike to begin at 5 a.m. on May 21.

Giuliani is trying to break the yellow-cab drivers' strike by encouraging vans and livery cabs to pick up passengers who hail them, which they are ordinarily not permitted to do.

But livery drivers, explained a NYTWA statement, "refuse to break with yellow cab sisters and brothers."

"It's more important for me to strike with the other cabbies than to have one or two days where I make a lot of money," said Barmgid Sing, a livery driver in Queens. Marty Cohen, a dispatcher for a Brooklyn car service, said "The mayor has to be pretty stupid if he doesn't realize this is a farce."

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