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NY mayor runs into yellow wall

By Lyn Neeley
New York

On May 21, in an unprecedented show of police-state coercion, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani mobilized thousands of cops, officers from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and school safety personnel-all dressed in police uniforms-to thwart a peaceful motorcade of taxi drivers.

On the same day, an estimated 80 percent of the city's cab drivers took part in a one-day work stoppage organized by the New York Taxi Workers Association. The action won significant public support.

Both the motorcade and the work stoppage had been organized to press drivers' demands that Giuliani scrap 17 new punitive regulations he has proposed.

When Giuliani first put forth these harsh measures, cab drivers stressed that the rules would make it impossible for them to earn a living. In response to the mayor's threats, over 99 percent of the city's cab drivers went out on a 24-hour strike on May 13.

That job action was organized by the NYTWA and the United Yellow Cab Drivers' Association.

The week before the May 21 work stoppage, the NYTWA distributed a leaflet headlined: "No time for confusion, time for action. No yellow cabs on the streets."

Drivers crowded the NYTWA headquarters to get more leaflets. They used their CB radios to spread the word.

News of the work stoppage spread like wildfire throughout the Indian, Bangla deshi, Pakistani, Afghani, Egyp tian, Iranian and other oppressed communities.

The Giuliani administration created a climate of racism and martial law on March 21.

Climate of martial law

The mayor threatened to call in the Immigration and Naturalization Service against drivers who took any action against his proposed restrictions. Most of the city's drivers are immigrants. The New York Civil Liberties Union denounced the mayor's attack on the cab drivers' constitutional right to free assembly and freedom of speech.

The mayor also vowed to seize protesting drivers' licenses and operator medallions. On the day of the motorcade, police had tools to rip the bolted medallion numbers off cab hoods.

At dawn, drivers who attempted to meet in Long Island City to form a motorcade were greeted by hundreds of cops. Police had turned the entire neighborhood into a "no parking" zone.

A massive cop mobilization blocked all major entrances to Manhattan. Police helicopters flew overhead.

Cab drivers from the boroughs were prevented from entering the city. They were stopped by police and harassed-accused of driving too slowly or not carrying passengers.

Angry drivers abandoned their cabs, chanting, "Shame, Giuliani," and "We want justice." They marched across the Queensboro Bridge and then six miles further, to City Hall.

The drivers found City Hall and nearby municipal buildings ringed with barricades and armed police.

Columnist Jimmy Breslin reported in the May 24 Newsday that on one side of Broadway, two dozen police motorcycles were revved up to break up the march. On the other side, a line of mounted cops were ready.

From City Hall to the Taxi and Limousine Commission offices on Wall Street, Breslin wrote, "there was nothing except people in uniforms."

In spite of the intimidating police presence, the drivers continued their march to the TLC's Wall Street offices.

'Time for action'

Giuliani's proposed new rules were the last straw for drivers. The most stringent of the measures would raise some fines to $1,000, hike insurance premiums and suspend a driver's license after only six penalty points or two traffic tickets in 18 months.

Drivers explain they are often harassed by racist cops, judges and the TLC. One driver said over half the tickets he got last year were for trumped-up charges.

It costs a day's pay to go to court to contest a citation. If the huge fines are not paid immediately, the driver's license is revoked.

Lease drivers-the majority of the city's 24,000 taxi drivers-are charged more than $100 a shift, plus gas, just to lease a cab from the taxi owners. Drivers work more than 70 hours a week, often taking home less than $200.

All cabs must have a medallion to operate. But medallions cost over $250,000, far beyond most drivers' reach. So many drivers pay more than $1,200 a week just to lease the medallion.

Drivers become prisoners of their cabs as they work under the most intense pressure in a city gridlocked with traffic.

Police Commissioner Howard Safir tried to justify the atmosphere of police harassment and racism against cab drivers on May 21 by saying, "We are against taxi terrorists."

But it is the mayor, the police commissioner, the TLC, the Metro Taxicab Board of Trade, and other cab employers who are the terrorists. They all demonized, threatened and bullied cab drivers to break up the protest.

Why? To insure that fleet owners can continue to reap tremendous profits off the drivers' backs.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,NY 10011; via e-mail: [email protected]. For subscription info send message to:[email protected]. Web:

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